We all know the feeling when we have a good night’s sleep… and the feeling when we don’t. That tired, groggy, unfocused morning after a rough night of sleep can affect our productivity, our mood, and our performance. Of course, the same is true for children. Tired children have a harder time focusing at school, regulating their emotions and interacting with their peers. Yet we know that the obvious solution – just get more sleep at night – isn’t so easy.

Many factors come into play when talking about sleep. Some children have a harder time falling asleep. Some have more demands on their limited time. Some families have to take care of business in the evenings or wake their children up very early because of work or transportation. The advice to just get more sleep might fall flat when taking all of these factors into account.

Yet, the power of a good night’s sleep is so important, we’d like to share just a few tips to help maximize those zzzzz’s. 

Quantity and Quality

There are two important things to consider when thinking about our sleep habits: quantity and quality. We know there are guidelines to how many hours of sleep we should get a night. (Many of us fail to meet those guidelines, but we at least know they exist.) But the number of hours of sleep is just one part of the picture. We also have to pay attention to the quality of the sleep. Notice any medical issues that may be at play, such as consistent snoring. If a child sleeps ten hours but snores all night and wakes up tired and cranky, he may have something called obstructive sleep apnea. Ten hours of restless sleep isn’t the same as ten hours of deep sleep. Things like TV playing in the bedroom can disrupt the quality of the sleep, because the lights and sounds are sending messages to the brain to wake up. Which leads us to…

Create a calm bedtime environment 

When considering the environment, ask yourself this question: If my child wakes up in the middle of the night, will she be able to fall back to sleep on her own? In other words, will the middle of the night environment match the bedtime environment? If at bedtime, there is a TV on, or lights or music playing, then her brain may say that she needs that in order to fall asleep. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, the more that environment matches her bedtime, the better. In general, quieter, calmer, darker, cooler temperature rooms the better. 

Keep cell phones out of the bedroom 

Ahem – we’re talking to ourselves here, too! So many of us have fallen into the habit of keeping our phones with us at night, right on our bedside table, or even right in bed with us! I know what you’re thinking – I use it as my alarm clock. Well, good news – they still sell alarm clocks! If we can get those phones out of our rooms, and especially out of our children’s rooms, they’ll get a much better night’s sleep. Those notifications, the temptation to check in with social media, and the late-night games and texting all alert the brain to an awake state and make it much harder to fall asleep. On this one, we may want to start with baby steps. Try plugging the phone in across the room for a week or a month, and then maybe move it out of the room entirely. Ideally, we’ll be off devices for an hour or so before bed to allow the brain to calm down. 

With these tips, hopefully you and your children will get some much-needed sleep. For more on this topic, including insight on naps, newborn sleep training, and teenagers who sleep until 1:00 pm on the weekends, listen to The Growing Brain podcast episode: A Healthy Night’s Sleep

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