When I first decided to become a sleep consultant, I assumed that the majority of my work would be with infants between 5-9 months – my assumption was based on my own tolerance for sleep deprivation, which peaked when my first son was 7 months old. I was surprised to learn just how many parents attempt to ‘wait out’ poor sleepers and don’t seek help until their child is 2, 3, 4 years old or older!
For some children, waiting it out might work – but for many, poor sleep hygiene as an infant leads to a drawn out battle with sleep that lasts for years, and for some it leads to a lifetime of poor sleep.
But fear not! If you’re dealing with a school-aged child with poor sleep habits, it’s not to late to teach them healthy sleep habits that encourage great sleep for life.
Here are my top tips for getting your child to have a healthy relationship with sleep.
- Establish an early bedtime.
Many parents balk at an early bedtime – they work late so dinner is late, or there’s judo or soccer practice to contend with – but it’s absolutely one of the most critical pieces to the sleep puzzle. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children aged 5-12 need 10-11 hours of sleep. You do the math…if your child needs to be up at 7:00 a.m., then she should be in bed, lights out and sleeping, by 8:00 p.m.
- Create a regular bedtime routine.
A bedtime routine is not just for infants and toddlers! Everyone can benefit from a regular, predictable, bedtime routine. It signals your brain and your body that sleep is coming and helps with the physical and mental wind-down. It doesn’t have to be extensive! A bath, some reading, prayers or a chat with Mom & Dad are all good elements in a bedtime routine for older children.
- Eliminate screens at least 1 hour before bed.
“But he’s so quiet watching TV before bed! It helps him relax!”. While it might make your child sit still and be calm, the light from the TV screen (or tablet or computer) is actually very stimulating. Research has shown that that light exposure after dark suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls sleep and wake cycles. With blue light, the light that emits from your television, phone, tablet or computer screen, suppressing melatonin more than any other type of light. If giving up television or tablet time before bed will be cause for revolt in your household, there’s a simple and inexpensive – though not very stylish – solution; amber-coloured glasses (aka “Blue Blockers” – does anyone else remember those commercials?). Wearing glasses like the Uvex brand helps reduce exposure to blue light and helps ensure your child’s body produces the appropriate amount of melatonin.
With those three tips, you and your school-aged child will be well on your way to a great night’s sleep. But if you’re unsure about the best way to implement these tips, or a more customized approach is needed for your child, please get in touch and I’d be happy to provide a free, 15-minute sleep evaluation on your child to determine how I could help.