“Sleep hygiene” is the term used to describe good sleep habits. For children, developing these healthy habits at a young age is very important, and requires parental involvement. Rarely are medications necessary to improve your child’s sleep, but rather adjustments to sleep hygiene are the mainstay for improvement.
As school is getting back in session across the country most parents want to ensure their child is getting enough sleep for optimal learning. Read on for some of our sleep hygiene tips:
Be consistent. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including the weekends! Most school-aged children need 9 hours of sleep, so plan bed time according to what time they need to wake up for school (ex: 9pm to 6am).
Sleep rituals. You can develop routines that remind your body it is time to sleep. For children this could be taking a bath/shower or reading a book. Older children may rather do stretches or breathing exercises.
Warm bath/shower. When your body temperature cools down after a bath or shower it assists with your body relaxing helps with sleep induction.
No clock-watching. Checking the time during the night or when attempting to fall asleep often reinforces negative thoughts (ex: “Oh no, look how late it is”) or stimulates the brain to wake up from the light.
Exercise. Regular exercise is key to being healthy, but also has been shown to help with sleep hygiene. Just make sure your child doesn’t do strenuous activity within 4 hours of bedtime. Rather, exercises in the morning or daytime is ideal.
Eat right. Obviously eating a healthy balanced diet is important to maintain health, but timing is very important too. Having an empty stomach before bedtime can be distracting, but a large heavy meal can also interfere with sleep. Often a snack, or cup of milk, will help with sleep induction.
Use a sleep journal. For adolescents or parents, keeping a worksheet of the details of your sleep for a few weeks might help you identify specific things that are either helping or hindering your sleep.
Avoid caffeine. Avoid consuming caffeine for at least 4-6 hours prior to bedtime. Foods besides coffee can be culprits for containing caffeine. Watch out for chocolate, ice cream, pudding, cereals, soda or energy drinks, and hot chocolate which could interfere with sleep.
Avoid screen time. Blue lights have short wavelength, which affects levels of melatonin even more than other wavelengths, fooling your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before going to bed.
Some children may also need a medication to help, once sleep hygiene has been optimized. The most common medication we use is called melatonin. This is a natural, hormone-like substance produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It is released naturally at night and tells the body it’s time to sleep.
Melatonin can be purchased over the counter as a dietary supplement. It’s use may be a short-term way to help some kids get rest while working on sleep hygiene. Administer about 30-60 minutes before desired bedtime. Many children respond to low doses. Good starting doses are 1mg for infants, 3mg for children, or 6mg for adolescents. Discuss use of melatonin with your child’s pediatrician prior to using to verify dose, discuss possible side effects, and ensure safety.
Remember, sleep hygiene is the key to a good nights rest!