Sleep hygiene refers to a set of healthy sleep habits that help an individual get adequate, undisturbed sleep throughout the night (1). Getting good sound sleep is as important as eating right and having an active lifestyle. However, several children sleep for fewer hours than recommended (2).
Experts warn that children and adolescents who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of developing health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, poor mental health, and attention and behavior problems (2). Hence, maintaining a healthy and effective sleep routine is vital for children.
Read on to know some practical tips that can help you set an effective sleep hygiene routine for your children.
Importance Of Sound Sleep For Children
“A good night’s sleep is essential for kids, and the best way to achieve that is with good sleep hygiene. Sleep affects attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health,” says Dr. Arunima Agarwal, a Los Angeles-based board-certified general pediatrician.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends children between six and 12 years sleep for nine to 12 hours and teens sleep for eight to ten hours (2). When a child sleeps, their brain and body undergo several recovery processes that promote better physical, mental, and emotional health (3).
A child with good physical and mental health (4)
- Grows and develops healthily.
- Is energetic.
- Stays attentive.
- Learns and remembers new things.
- Performs well at academics and other co-curricular activities.
- Maintains happy and healthy interpersonal relations.
These benefits do not stop at childhood but follow the child into adulthood and beyond. If a child does not get enough sleep or their sleep quality is poor, they are likely to be frustrated, irritable, fussy, inattentive, and impulsive (5), which can negatively affect their physical, emotional, and cognitive health.
Sleep Hygiene Tips For Children
According to the Sleep Foundation, “sleep hygiene encompasses both environment and habits, and it can pave the way for higher-quality sleep and better overall health (5).”
- Maintain a sleep and wake schedule. Set a routine wherein your child sleeps and wakes up at a fixed time daily. Encourage them to follow the routine diligently from a young age to develop it as a habit as they grow. Remember, young children mimic their elders’ behavior, so ensure you sleep and wake up at the same time every day to set the right example for your child.
- Set a relaxing bedtime routine. A bedtime routine can include a set of activities that your child does routinely before going to bed. For instance, you can brush your young child’s teeth and give them a warm bath to let them feel relaxed before bedtime. Then, you both can indulge in calming activities, such as reading a book or listening to music.
- Create a conducive sleep environment. You could do several things to achieve this. For instance, dress your child in weather-appropriate clothes and lay them on a clean bed with only one or two toys the child loves; remove all the unnecessary items to give your child enough comfortable space to sleep. Then, keep the bedroom quiet, turn off or dim the lights, and ensure the room temperature is pleasant and comfortable.
- Use alternative relaxation techniques. If your children find it challenging to fall asleep, you may try alternative relaxation techniques, such as massaging them using a massage oil before a shower or diffusing aromatic essential oils, such as lavender and lemongrass, in your child’s bedroom. Furthermore, you can try positive imaging and deep breathing exercises for older children and teens.
Note: Before using essential oils for diffusion or massaging, consult a pediatrician to make an informed choice.
- Instruct children to use the bed only for sleeping. According to experts, when children study, play, or eat on the bed, their brain doesn’t associate bed with sleeping. As a result, it may lead to sleeping difficulties. Hence, keep your child’s bed clean and clutter-free and set clear house rules about not eating or playing in the bedroom.
- Put a screen time curfew. Switch off all the electronic gadgets that your child uses at least 60 minutes before bedtime. Set this as a house rule that everyone, including you, should follow. To keep the child’s room distraction-free, remove all the electronic gadgets, such as television, computer, tablet, video games, and mobile phones, from the room. It will ensure your child doesn’t sneak out of bed late at night to indulge in screen time.
- Do not keep a clock in your child’s room. This is important in cases where children develop the habit of checking the clock frequently (8). While there can be several reasons behind a child checking the clock, the most prominent one is the stress of waking up on time. So, talk to your child and explain that waking up on time requires following a sleep schedule regularly to let the body clock work well.
- Develop healthy lifestyle habits. These habits include eating a well-balanced diet containing foods from different food groups, exercising regularly, and avoiding heavy meals or caffeinated foods and beverages, such as coffee or energy drink, at least two hours before bedtime. Following these habits ensures that the child maintains optimum overall health, which is essential for good sleep.
- Keep the child active throughout the day. Allow children below six years to take a nap during the day if needed, and for children over six, try limiting daytime napping (9). Napping during the day or early evening makes sleeping at night difficult. So, keep the child busy in activities or games, such as dancing, painting, or swimming, as per their interest.
- Abstain from overscheduling. Overscheduling refers to planning several activities in the evening, which can overstimulate the child’s brain and affect the child’s sleeping.
“Depending on the timing of activities, it could keep kids up too late. For example, if a sports practice ends at 8 pm, it’s will be hard for the child to get ready for bed on time and transition to the bedtime routine. Overscheduled could also mean overstimulated and hard to whine down after a very active day. This is really dependent on each child,” notes Dr. Elham Raker, a board-certified pediatrician and founder of Ask Dr.Mom.
- Be flexible but not lenient. Children tend to fall behind schedule during the weekends, holidays, or vacations. Therefore, minor deviations, such as sleeping an hour late from the set bedtime once in a while, should be okay. However, make sure that it doesn’t become habitual. To ensure this, you should follow the set routines diligently and encourage your child to do the same at all times.
- Get out of bed rather than lying awake. At times, children might not get sleep, and they may lie awake on the bed. In such instances, ask your child to get out of bed and try some non-stimulating activities, such as reading a book. In most cases, the child may return to sleep in some time. However, if the child still doesn’t feel sleepy, ask them to get out of bed and read the book again. Doing this will prevent the child from associating bed with sleeplessness.
- Be a role model. Young children learn from what they see. So, set the right example by maintaining a good sleep hygiene routine yourself. It will encourage your child or teen to walk in your footsteps. Besides, when the entire family follows a set routine together, it makes the process easier for the children.
- Maintain a sleep diary or journal. “I would recommend a journal if the family is having a hard time with sleep hygiene and a routine to see if you can understand the obstacles better. It may also be helpful for an older child to journal before bed as a way to wind down,” suggests Dr. Raker.
Further, it will help you measure your child’s sleep quality by tracking their sleep time, wake time, and nap time, giving you an insight into the patterns and helping you know whether your child is sleeping for an adequate number of hours.
- Learn to identify sleep problems in children. It will help you know if your child isn’t getting enough sleep due to poor sleep hygiene or an underlying health problem. Some of the most common sleep disorders in children that can be roadblocks in achieving sound sleep are obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and parasomnias (night terrors and nightmares) (10). Pediatric consultation is vital to diagnose and treat these problems to ensure the child sleeps adequately.
- Resolve your child‘s worries and anxieties. Talk to them empathetically and try to find out what’s worrying or stressing them. If the concern is trivial, give them a quick and easy way out. For instance, if your child has lost a doll and is upset, reassure them that you will get them a new doll. However, if the child is anxious about an upcoming sports event, you can tell them that you will discuss it in detail in the morning.
- Tell your child to sleep in their room. This is crucial as several young children have the habit of entering their parents’ room in the middle of the night. In such situations, do not start a conversation or let the child sleep in your bed. Instead, walk them to their room and help them lie down. While they are sleeping, wait for five to ten minutes near the bedside but avoid sleeping with them.
- Stay connected with your child’s school teachers. Ask them to keep you informed if your child falls asleep in the class regularly or shows any learning or behavior problems. This will help you learn that your child might not be sleeping adequately and allow you to find solutions.
Sleep hygiene is a set of healthy habits developed and followed to help an individual sleep soundly. Early childhood is the right time for children to start following sleep hygiene to have fewer sleep-related problems as they grow. A child may face pitfalls initially, but their persistent efforts and continuous handholding from parents can help them learn ways to get good quality sleep daily.
- Sleep Hygiene Tips. American Sleep Association.
- Sleep in Middle and High School Students. CDC.
- What Happens When You Sleep? Sleep Foundation.
- Sleep: Benefits and recommended amounts. The Hospital For Sick Children.
- Sleep Hygiene
- Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?. AAP.
- Sleep Hygiene for Children. CHOC Children’s.
- How to sleep better: 10 tips for children. Raising Children.
- Sleep tips: How to help your child get a good night\’s sleep. The Hospital For Sick Children.
- Common Sleep Disorders in Children. AAFP.
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