Motivation for this topic came from an eye-opening moment last year while at an elementary school. I am a part-time educator and was at a school watching students ages 4-12 get off the bus and enter the playground. When I looked closely at a child’s face I was shocked at what I saw….and after noticing it the first time, I started looking closer at the other children walking passed me. It was the clearly evident, dark circles under their eyes! A clear indication of over tiredness! I know what you may be thinking…that child probably had a late hockey game, dance recital, or too much homework the night before…all relatively good excuses if it was one, two or even three children with these dark circles…but no, it was dozens! I was floored!
Being a child sleep consultant, this spiked my attention. How can all these children be so overtired that they have dark eyes (an indication of built-up sleep debt from chronic over tiredness). But then I started thinking about what their evening lives might look like. Probably something like; get off the bus, grab a quick snack, get in the car to go to soccer/dance/hockey/music, grab dinner on the way to pick up younger/older sibling at their activities, get home around 7:00, have a shower, do homework/chores…or more likely play video games or Ipad, until dozing off around 9:00 or 10:00pm! In this circumstance, it is clear that sleep is not a priority in this family.
Let’s face it, life is busy! Between work, school, activities, exercise, meals, and social life, there is not much time for anything else. Our family lives, and all the other responsibilities do not leave too much room for adequate sleep…but we SHOULD be making sleep a priority for all the members of our family. Sleep is responsible for so much in our lives; our mood, our weight, our health, our ability to think, learn, play…and function! So without enough sleep, our bodies will not and cannot allow us to do all the things listed above adequately.
Hopefully, you agree that sleep should be a priority in your family, now it’s a matter of making it happen.
Set the Space
The first aspect of good sleep hygiene is making sure everyone has a safe sleep environment. Each family member should have their own sleep area, free of clutter and distraction. The room should be dark for all sleep times (no lights, tvs, open windows) and should be around 20 degrees.
Set the Time
Sticking to a set bedtime can be difficult for busy families. Something seems to always get in the way…extra homework, late practice, your child tells you he needs cupcakes at school tomorrow! Making a set bedtime a priority in your family means taking it seriously. Not scheduling any extra-curricular activities after a certain time, scheduling specific time in your evening for homework/play/family time, and saying “no” when something like cupcakes can take a back seat to sleep hygiene.
There are a few things to consider when choosing an appropriate bedtime for each member of the family.
- Different age ranges need different amounts of sleep. Anyone under 3 years need at least 12 hours of sleep, children 4-6 years need 10-12 hours, older children can have a little less, and adults should get around 8 hours.
- Consider what time everyone has to be awake in the morning. Counting backwards from there (the amount needed for their age) will give you an appropriate bed time. For example, if your household wakes at 7:00am on school/work days, your 4 year old should be in bed by 7:00pm.
- Realize that every individual’s needs will differ slightly, so allow for extra sleep (in the form of earlier bed times) when necessary. (illness, cranky, busy weeks etc)
Stick to it
What!? No sleeping in!? That’s right. Having a set schedule to stick to during the week helps your body function properly, habitually regulating hormone levels throughout the day. As much as we love to have a few extra hours of sleep on the weekends to “catch up” on lost sleep during the week, it doesn’t really do our bodies any good. Ranging between 1-2 hours off schedule is ok but anything more than that will alter your body’s schedule. We are creatures of habit and thrive on schedules, so our bodies will perform better when we keep to that schedule. (that means bedtime too!)
Turn off the TECH
TV’s, smartphone, tablets and computers all emit a blue light that sends a signal to our brain to stay awake. For this reason, it is suggested that children not be subjected to this blue light for at least an hour before bed so their bodies can start producing Melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone. But, this is equally important for adults as well. Leave the technology out of the bedroom, and ideally not included in the hour before your bedtime as well.
Set the Tone
The 30 minutes before your bedtime should act as a primer for sleep. Consider what you, and your children do in that time. Is it relaxing, de-stressing, enjoyable, and predictable? Our needs for routine does not change as we age. Babies and young children have a bedtime routine (bath, story, cuddles, song) and so should we. An adult’s bedtime routine could include some of the same calming aspects; a bath or shower, reading a book in low-light, a glass of wine ;)… Do the laundry, cleaning, making lunches etc earlier in the evening so you can carve out the 30 minutes needed to decompress. It will do wonders for you quality and ability to sleep.