Sleep is one of the most important building blocks to good health, so make sure your youngsters are getting enough
Anyone with experience of a new-born baby might scoff at an article on children and sleep. All parents will remember those debilitating sleepless nights! But, believe it or not, it doesn’t take long before the little cherubs start to enjoy their nighttime sleep (at least some of them!).
But good sleep routines are essential for all ages, not just the tiny ones. The darker nights offer a great opportunity to create an improved sleep routine for your child. The key is to plan ahead and to encourage and support good sleep hygiene for the whole family, not just children on their own.
Sleep expert Dave Gibson of Warren Evans bed makers (whose online magazine, Sleep Tips is full of practical advice and helpful tips), and founder of thesleepsite.co.uk, shares his top tips on creating good sleep routines below.
1 Work out how much sleep your child needs, especially during the school term: on average, 3 to 5-year-olds need between 10 to 13 hours sleep, 6 to 13-year-olds need 9 to 11 hours, and teenagers 8 to 10 hours. These are general guidelines and will vary from child to child so base the total hours on your experience and parental insight — you know your child best. Theoretically, as your child gets older, they would expect to go to bed later. For example, a 6-year-old who went bed at 7.30pm would expect to go to bed a lot later by the time they left primary school. Typically, if your child had 10 hours and 45 minutes of sleep as a 6-year-old, you would expect to reduce this by 15 minutes a year. This means that by the time they get to 13 they will be having 9 hours sleep a night.
2 Discuss and mutually agree an acceptable bedtime — especially with teenagers! Then start to wean your child off any late nights (for example, during the holiday season) and onto the new bedtime and wake time. Calculate how far off your child is from their designated school bedtime and adjust it by 15 minutes earlier every day for both their bedtime and wake time. So, if your child is going to bed at 10pm in the holiday season and the school bedtime is 8pm, it will take you eight days to make the adjustment. The idea is to get your child adjusted to their new routine the day before school starts, this will give them the right amount of sleep for their age group and personal needs.
3 Make sure that this new bedtime works. If your child finds it hard to wake up in the morning and is groggy rather than alert during breakfast, just adjust their bedtime to an earlier time.
4 Re-establish good sleep hygiene. This generally means having a wind-down routine, which starts about an hour before bed. Computer games, homework, and social media are all stopped an hour before bedtime. A bath or bedtime story could be used for younger school kids and reading for older. Packing books, laying out clothes for the next day, brushing teeth (without a bright bathroom light on) and putting on pyjamas, all form part of a good sleep habit. For younger children, Lumie’s Bedbug with sleep-optimised lighting is ideal for encouraging calm bedtimes. If you do the same thing each night before bed, the routine will start becoming a cue to the brain that it’s almost time for sleep.
5 Keep to the routine even at weekends. Our brains and body clocks like habits and a consistent sleep routine seven days a week makes it easier for your child to get to sleep in the week.
6 Encourage your child to have a healthy lifestyle. Eliminate all caffeine such as coffee-based drinks, energy drinks, and dark chocolate. Get them to exercise regularly, which will also help them sleep better.
7 Ideally, all technology should be kept out of the bedroom, but with the modern teenager’s use of social media, this is increasingly more difficult to enforce. Equally, schoolchildren tend to prefer studying on computers in their bedroom.
In all cases, technology that emits blue light should be stopped at least 60 minutes before bed. Ideally, nighttime modes and screen dimmers should be used throughout the evening.
8 Keep phones out of the bedroom overnight. This should be a family rule rather than just for your children, as it makes the boundary easier to enforce and accept. Use a traditional alarm to wake up or preferably, a dawn simulator.
9 Get your child interested in sleep and the bedroom. Educate them about why sleep is important in terms of brain development and how consistent and regular routines work. Encourage them to make their bedroom a perfect place to sleep; cool, dark, and quiet. If their mattress or pillow is uncomfortable or old, get a new one and allow older children to have a budget to buy it. Get them to try it in-store so it becomes their special mattress or pillow.
10 Set a good example. One rule for all the family is a good place to start. Make sure you keep the same seven-day schedules too, no coffee and a similar sleep routine with a one-hour break from technology before bed.