By Lexi Walters Wright
Sleep helps our ability to think critically, retain information, manage emotions, control behaviors and stay healthy. How can you and your child get more of the sleep you need? Here are some tips for better sleep.
Before you start adjusting your nightly routine, it helps to know how many hours of rest to aim for. Here’s how much sleep most people need at different ages:
Daytime exercise can help children and adults fall asleep more easily at night. When possible, encourage bike rides, long walks, karate lessons or exercise classes right after school or on weekend mornings or afternoons. That way, they’ll be less likely to interfere with bedtime wind-down.
During the day, aim for at least 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight. You might walk the dog with your child or bike together to the store. If possible, try to get an hour of bright morning sunlight. This can help regulate sleep patterns. At night, turn down the lights before bedtime.
One of the best ways to keep stress at bay is to do more of the things that keep you calm. Laughing with friends, exercising, listening to music, practicing yoga, meditating, journaling, organizing your personal space—you name it. Assess what works for you and your child.
What your family eats can affect your sleep. Try to avoid heavy or spicy foods four hours before bedtime and caffeine four to six hours before bedtime. If you’re still hungry after dinner, consider eating a light nighttime snack within two hours of bedtime.
Napping can be a relaxing way to improve your and your child’s mood, alertness and mental performance. But napping for too long or too late in the day can lead to grogginess or trouble falling asleep at night. It’s best to take naps that are:
All children can benefit from having parents take the guesswork out of their daily routines. This is even more important for kids with learning and attention issues. Choose a bedtime and wake-up time for each member of the family. Stick to it as best you can—even on weekends and holidays.
Many families abandon the nightly bath-books-bed sequence when children grow out of toddlerhood. But there’s much to be said for these nightly pre-sleep rituals. They help you wind down, no matter your age. (In fact, people who take hot baths before bed actually have an easier time falling asleep.)
TVs, cell phones, computers and other electronic devices can sabotage sleep. The light from these electronics might disrupt the production of a hormone (melatonin) that governs sleep and wakefulness. Being constantly available to friends who want to text, chat or email doesn’t help either. Before bedtime, move electronics to a central location to charge, like the kitchen or hallway.
Is the bed comfy? Is the room cool enough? Do your child’s pajamas fit well, without any irritations? A comfortable bedtime setup encourages sound sleep.
Scents like lavender and chamomile are proven sleep-inducers. Try a pillow spray or scented body lotion. Light music, nature sounds or white-noise machines can block intrusive sounds and lull the body to sleep. Consider earplugs if noise is really bothersome.
There’s nothing less relaxing than worrying about falling asleep. Still not able to fall asleep after 15 minutes of lying quietly? Try getting out of bed and doing something quiet and peaceful—like reading or listening to light music—until you feel sleepy. (Help your child figure out what activities those might be.)
If you or your child consistently have trouble sleeping, you might want to talk to your doctor. Be sure to discuss all medications you’re taking. If your child is taking a stimulant to help with attention issues, that medication could cause sleeping problems. Ask your child’s doctor about taking the medicine earlier in the day or switching to a shorter-acting formulation.
School’s out, but summer isn’t always stress-free for young kids with learning and attention issues. Parenting Coach has tips for helping with social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Check out these strategies for common summertime trouble spots.
No matter how hard you try, it can be tough to find time to bond with your child. That’s especially true if you have multiple jobs or work unusual hours. These ideas can help.
Lexi Walters Wright is veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Ginny Osewalt is certified in elementary and special education, with experience in inclusion, resource room and self-contained settings.
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