Kids hate it, adults love it, and we all need it. Sleep is a major player when it comes to the health of our bodies and brains, and it can affect us in very positive or negative ways. Within the last few decades, there have been several studies that have shown that during sleep the neural connections in our brains are strengthened and replenished, resulting in improved memory and clearer thought processes. This has thoroughly debunked the common thought that pulling an ‘all-nighter’ to study before an exam is a good thing to do.
Making sure our kids are getting the rest they need can be challenging in our busy lives. Yet our little ones need ample rest to perform well in school as and all their extracurricular activities. Prolonged lack of sleep can manifest itself in a number of negative ways in children including hyperactivity, poor academic performance, difficulty falling asleep or waking in the morning, behavioral issues, and more.
Let’s look at a few ways we can ensure our kids are spending enough time with good ‘ol Mr. Sandman.
1. EARLY TO BED, EARLY TO RISE
The old adage is a well-used saying, and even though it was probably meant for farmers or fishermen, it still holds true for us today. The Sleep Foundation recommends 10 to 13 hours of sleep a night for preschoolers and 9 to 11 hours for elementary and jr. high aged children. That is a lot of sleep! If your schedule requires an early alarm time in the morning, then it’s very important to make sure to enforce an early bedtime especially for younger children. This may mean saying ‘no’ to nighttime events or invitations, but it’s well worth it to have rested, happy, and focused children during the day. Let the weekends be a time for sleepovers, family movie nights, or a special outing in the evening.
2. CREATE A BEDTIME ROUTINE
This is very important for younger ones, but is helpful for older children as well. Going through a similar pattern every evening tells the body what’s coming next, and in this case it’s sleep. Doctors do not recommend any screen time in the hours leading up to bedtime, as this can stimulate the brain and body. Reading a story, snuggling while talking about the day, and a warm bath or shower are all good steps to incorporate into a routine. It’s also a good idea to start winding down at least 30 minutes before lights out time.
3. AVOID SUGAR & CAFFEINE
Kids love sugar, and if we are honest with ourselves we probably all love sugar, but unlike adults, children don’t always understand how it affects their bodies. One of the negative side effects of sugar is the way the body burns it up, resulting in a short burst of wild energy only to be followed by what has been deemed a ‘sugar crash.’ Eating a balanced diet of proteins, carbs, and fats throughout the day will help ensure a good night’s sleep. Kids are starting to drink caffeine at younger ages these days, and while studies are not conclusive on the effects of it, doctors do not recommend it as it is a stimulant and has been shown to block calcium intake. Caffeine comes in all shapes and sizes: blended coffee drinks, iced teas, chocolate, and energy drinks are all readily available to children and teens.
If you suspect your little or big ones are not getting enough sleep, start making small changes every week to correct the situation. You can move bedtime 15 minutes earlier and gradually keep going until you reach the goal time, establish a bedtime routine, or start changing what your family eats or drinks during the day. Have a conversation with children who can understand about the importance of sleep and how it affects their day. More importantly, model the proper behaviors yourself so that your kids can see it in action. Your whole family will benefit from it.