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Helpful strategies to promote restful sleep in children

Helpful strategies to promote restful sleep in children

As a parent to a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old, I truly understand the importance of a good night’s sleep for our children’s overall well-being and development. Nevertheless, ensuring that our little ones, as well as our older ones, get sufficient sleep can often pose a challenge. Drawing from my experience as a psychologist and a parent to two young sons, I empathize with the hurdles parents face in establishing healthy sleep habits for their children. As the new school year approaches, I find it fitting to share a few strategies I have personally employed with my kids to promote a peaceful and restorative night’s sleep.

Create a sleep-friendly environment: The sleep environment plays a crucial role in helping children fall asleep and stay asleep. It is important to create a dark, quiet, relaxing and comfortable sleeping space which is crucial to ensuring your child’s bedroom is conducive to sleep. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Dim the lights and block out any external sources of light, including street lights, which might interfere with a good night’s sleep. Make sure you close the blinds to keep the room dark. In the morning, open blinds/curtains or turn on a light when they first wake up to signal to them that it is time to get up.
  • Have your children change into their pajamas at night and switch back into regular clothes in the morning. This simple act can signal to their minds that it’s time for bedtime versus wake time.
  • Use noise machines to drown out disruptive noises that could interfere with their sleep.

Encourage physical activity: Physical exercise during the day can have a positive impact on a child’s sleep. In general, we recommend 20 to 30 minutes of active play outdoors or on a playground. This helps burn off excess energy which in turn makes them tired, and contributes to a deeper and more restful sleep at night. Additionally, make sure your children complete vigorous activities at least a few hours before bedtime, as being physically active too close to bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Limit naps (for older children): While naps are essential for younger children, they might interfere with bedtime for older children who no longer require them. Trying to avoid daytime naps, especially close to bedtime, can ensure they are tired enough to fall asleep at night. If you do nap, try to sleep for less than an hour and no later than four in the afternoon.

Avoid caffeine and sugary drinks: Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep. But keep in mind that caffeine is not just found in coffee but also in soda, tea, and even some chocolates. Avoiding caffeine consumption for at least three to four hours before bedtime can help promote better sleep. Additionally, avoid giving sugary drinks or treats right before bedtime, as they may cause energy spikes that hinder falling asleep. Instead, drinking milk or water before bedtime is better.

Establish a consistent bedtime routine: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can work wonders in preparing your child for sleep. A predictable sequence of calming activities like brushing teeth, reading a bedtime story, or a warm bath can signal to their brains that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. During that time, it can take 15 to 30 minutes to complete all of these little activities that lead up to bedtime. Consistency and predictability are key to helping children feel secure and ready for sleep.

Limit screen time before bed: Electronic devices emit blue light that can disrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep regulation. To promote restful sleep, it’s best to limit screen time at least 30 minutes before bedtime as well as minimize other sleep distractions. If needed, create a designated charging station outside your child’s bedroom to avoid the temptation of using devices when it’s time to sleep. If your child has a tendency to watch TV once you close their bedroom door, consider not having a TV in their room or create a firm rule that TV cannot come on when it is time for bed.

Promoting restful sleep in children requires consistency and patience from parents. Remember that every child is different so it may take some trial and error to find the best strategies that work for your little one. Be proactive and persistent, and soon enough, you’ll witness the positive effects of a well-rested child on their overall mood, behavior and cognitive abilities, and that’s a win-win for everyone!

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