If your child is struggling with excessive daytime sleepiness or isn’t waking up feeling well-rested in the mornings, it could indicate a problem with their sleep hygiene. Fortunately, practicing good sleep hygiene is a straightforward, relatively simple process. It’s all a matter of finding out what works and staying consistent with a healthy bedtime routine.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is simply the term used to refer to good sleeping habits. Good sleep hygiene can help childrens and adults fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. Maintaining good sleep hygiene is important for mental and physical health overall, and can help improve productivity at work and school.
The importance of sleep is often underestimated. Without adequate sleep, school-aged children are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, attention and behavioral problems, and mental health issues. The earlier parents start helping their children with good sleep hygiene, the easier it will be to sustain these habits through the teen years.
How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?
Sleep requirements can vary slightly depending on the individual child. However, generally speaking, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following number of hours of sleep per night based on these age groups:
- Children 3 - 5 years old need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night.
- Children 6 - 12 years old need 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night.
- Teenagers 13 - 18 years old need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.
Good Sleep At Night Starts During The Day
Implementing healthy bedtime habits actually begins with healthy daytime habits. To prime children ages 3 and older for quality sleep at night, make a concerted effort to practice the following daytime habits:
- Don’t nap for longer than 45 minutes a day.
- Get exposure to natural sunlight in the morning and early afternoon. This triggers the inner biological clock to start ticking down, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
- Avoid bright lights in the evening. This includes TV, laptop, and smartphone screens. Research has shown that blue light can interfere with our circadian rhythms. If you have to use screens in the evening, set your device to night mode.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise in during the day. It’s best to avoid strenuous workouts in the evening.
Sleep Hygiene Tips for Children and Teens
Your child may show some initial resistance to new bedtime habits, especially if they are not accustomed to them. It’s important to remain consistent in enforcing these habits, otherwise, their sleep cannot improve. Keep in mind that everyone, regardless of age, responds differently to sleep hygiene practices, so not every recommendation will suit your child perfectly. Find out which habits make noticeable differences in your child’s sleeping routines and daytime energy levels, and then stick to them.
1. Try to have your child go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on the weekends.
When children stick to the same sleep and wake times 7 days a week, they are more likely to have a restful night's sleep. Catching up on lost sleep during the weekends is tempting, but it disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm and makes it even harder to return to a regimented schedule.
2. Designate the bed as a sleeping/napping-only area.
Doing other activities in bed such as playing video games or watching TV makes it harder for the brain to associate the bed with sleeping. Keep recreational activities limited to other rooms in the house.
3. Limit some activities before bedtime.
Do not allow your child to consume media that is frightening, tense, or anxiety-provoking within 2 hours of bedtime. This can include anything from a drama movie to the evening news. Opt for a low-stress board game or books instead. Make sure older kids don’t eat, drink, or exercise within a few hours of bedtime. Don’t leave homework for the last minute. Try to avoid the TV, computer and telephone in the hour before bed.
4. Keep bedroom temperatures between 65 and 72 degrees.
A bedroom that is warmer than 75 degrees can make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Cool temperatures are shown to promote restful sleep by minimizing sweating, itching and discomfort. Keep a hypoallergenic blanket within arms reach if it gets too chilly.
5. Start implementing a bedtime routine.
The routine doesn’t have to start at precisely the same time each night, but it should happen each and every night before your child goes to bed. Predictability is soothing for children, and gives them a chance to get sleepy on their own before it’s lights out. A bedtime routine can include activities such as brushing teeth, taking a warm bath, picking out and putting on pajamas, reading, or laying out their outfit for school the next day.
6. Keep bedtime check-ups brief.
If your child calls for you in the middle of the night, make sure your interactions with them are short and non-stimulating. Remember that the objective of checking up on a child at bedtime is simply to let them know you’re there and that they are safe.
7. Put them to bed awake but groggy.
Believe it or not, it’s best to put children to bed when they’re sleepy but not yet asleep. This is because allowing them to fall asleep in areas other than their own bed will teach them to associate sleep with places other than the bed.
8. Keep a sleep diary.
This works well for older children and teenagers since it allows them to feel a degree of control and independence when it comes to their sleep cycles. Encourage them to track their naps, sleep and wake times, and corresponding emotions so that they can find patterns for what does and doesn’t work well.
Capital Area Pediatrics is proud to offer comprehensive pediatric care from birth to adolescence to families throughout Northern Virginia. If your child’s sleep has not improved with sleep hygiene practices, it is possible that he or she may have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder or obstructive sleep apnea. These conditions require specialized medical counseling and occasionally call for sleep studies.
If you want your child to be evaluated for sleeping issues or for any other medical reason, find a Capital Area Pediatrics location near you and call the office to set up an appointment. You may also request an appointment online.