by Guest Blogger, Stephie Hughes
Stephanie Hughes is an SLC mom of two and the owner of Little Star Sleep Coaching, LLC.
What does it mean to be healthy? Most of us think automatically of good nutrition and exercise, but did you know that sleep is just as important? Poor sleep is linked with greater risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and increased rates of accidents, to name just a few. For our children, sleep is even more critical:
- Children need good sleep to learn and thrive. A shortage of even one hour of sleep can affect learning, memory, attention, and concentration. It’s now believed that sleep problems may be the true culprit for more than a third of kids diagnosed with ADHD.
- Children need good sleep to grow. Human growth hormone production peaks during sleep and can diminish in kids who aren’t getting sufficient rest.
- Children need good sleep to be healthy. Kids who are short on sleep have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to colds, flus, and all the other viruses they’re exposed to.
When it comes to sleep, there is no shortage of reasons we stray from our good intentions, from work schedules to soccer practice to weekends at Grandma’s. Bedtimes get later and naps get skipped or taken on the go.
Think of sleep like nutrition, though: disruptions may be inevitable, but just as you would not feed your child donuts for breakfast every day, don’t let “junk sleep” become the norm.
So, how can you establish healthy sleep habits for your children?
- Lead by example
If you make good rest a priority for yourself, and if you establish healthy, flexible routines for the family and do your best to stick with them, your kids will learn that sleep is important.
- Do bedtime right
Young children do best with an early bedtime, usually around 7 or 7:30 p.m.: they get to sleep more easily and sleep more soundly. When you miss that critical sleep window, cortisol spikes, which makes your child wired and makes bedtime a battle.Follow a nice, consistent routine each night – kids really thrive on knowing what to expect, so do the same steps in the same order, for example, jammies, then brushing teeth, then 2 stories, then hugs and kisses and tucking in. Toddlers especially crave predictability as well as plenty of time for winding down and snuggling, so don’t rush it. Use an abbreviated version of the bedtime routine for naps.If your kids spend time in front of the TV or playing on the iPad in the evening, be sure to turn technology off at least one hour before bedtime. The lights emitted from screens interfere with your child’s ability to get to sleep.
- Respect naps
Yes, it can be inconvenient to plan around your child’s nap schedule, especially when there are other siblings involved, but try to make naps on the go the exception, not the rule. Sleep in the car or the stroller is certainly better than no sleep at all, but it’s not the same quality as motionless sleep in a quiet, dark room. Sleep begets sleep; if your child isn’t getting good naps, it’s much more likely that she’ll have trouble at bedtime and be waking during the night or early in the morning, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to make her daytime rest a priority.
- Encourage independent sleep skills
It’s SO common for young children to develop sleep “crutches” such as being rocked to sleep or needing a parent to lie in bed with them at bedtime. Some kids will eventually get the hang of going to sleep on their own without any specific help, but many don’t, and it generally gets harder to change habits as they get older.Helping your child learn to go to sleep on his own doesn’t have to mean closing the door and letting him cry. This generally doesn’t work too well with older, mobile kids anyway. But you can gradually reduce the amount of assistance you’re providing – say, sit next to his bed instead of lying down with him, and move a bit farther away every couple of days.
Establishing good sleep habits makes both days and nights easier for everyone, thanks to fewer meltdowns, calmer bedtimes, and more, well, rest!! Make sleep a priority for YOUR family – it will yield big payoffs today and in the future.