How to Help Your Child Fall and Stay Asleep
Bedtime battles are no joke. Somehow children who are usually sweet and loving can turn into crazed tornadoes once bedtime rolls around. The combination of exhausted parents and tired children can sometimes create an explosive atmosphere that turns bedtime into a battleground.
But, as the parent, you have the power to help your child develop the good sleep hygiene that will help her get the rest she needs now and throughout the rest her life.
Why Sleep Is So Important
Sleep impacts almost all organs and systems in the body. Both adults and children alike need sleep for the immune system to function properly. When you’re sleep deprived, you get sick more often, and you tend to stay sick longer.
The brain uses sleep time to cleanse out waste that builds up during the day. It also prunes and strengthens connections to speed up reaction times, decision-making abilities, and reasoning skills. For children, the prefrontal area of the brain takes a hit during sleep deprivation, which makes it difficult for them to follow directions when they’re tired.
The amygdala, the region of the brain that controls emotions has a harder time processing responses to emotion in a child’s brain. Keeping those powerful emotions in check can be tough even under the best of circumstances, but kids who haven’t gotten enough sleep can be irritable and aggressive with frequent mood swings.
Children also need to reach the deepest stages of sleep for growth hormone to be released. Continued healthy development relies on the body having the time to not only release the hormone but respond.
Getting Enough Sleep Through Consistent Habits
- The human body relies on regular 24-hour cycles called circadian rhythms to control the sleep-wake cycle. The best thing you can do for your child is to be consistent in your efforts to establish healthy sleep habits.
Regular Bedtime: A regular bedtime not only brings structure and order to your child’s day but also helps her body recognize when to release sleep hormones. With time, your child’s body will start to release these hormones before bedtime in preparation for sleep.
Establish a Bedtime Routine: When used in conjunction with a regular bedtime, a bedtime routine can be one of the most powerful ways to help your child sleep better. A routine helps the brain recognize what to do and when to do it. Bedtime routines also help your child calm down for the evening. Anything that’s calming and relaxing like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or singing quiet songs together. Be sure to perform the routine at the same time in the same order each day.
Turn Off Screens: Televisions, iPads, smartphones, and many other electronic devices give off bright blue light that can actually suppress the release of sleep hormones. Turn off screens at least an hour before bed to make sure your child feels sleepy at the right time.
Plenty of Exercise: The more physically tired your child is, the easier it’ll be for her to fall asleep. An energetic child may need more time outside or run around in the early evening. However, rambunctious play should take place well before bedtime to prevent your child from getting over excited. Try to start calming things down an hour before bed.
While healthy habits are important, you also need to make sure your child’s bedroom has the right conditions to support healthy sleep. Babies and toddlers have unique bed needs, such as crib mattresses that don’t sink along the edges. Older children can sleep on the same type of bed as an adult. The bedroom should be dark, quiet, and cool for your child’s mind and body to reach the deepest stages of sleep.