“It turns out, when children get enough sleep, everything’s fine…And when children don’t, nothing is. I realized… I’m like that too!”
– Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In Sleep
The natural shift in consciousness from an alert state to an unconscious one.
We do it, animals do it, even our kids do it (often reluctantly).
And if you’re a busy parent, chances are you might get less than you’d like.
But why is it so important? And how can we master the art of sleep, for us and our kids?
Why do we sleep?
Until relatively recently (pre-1950’s), sleep was thought to be a dormant state. A time where our bodies and brains shut down.
But scientists have found that our minds are active during sleep and that it is essential to our survival and long-term health.
According to the American Sleep Association, “…sleep affects our daily functioning and physical and mental health in many ways“.
How much we get (quantity) and the nature of our sleep (quality) will affect how we feel and perform the very next day.
And our sleep routines, day in and day out, will ultimately impact our long-term health and well-being.
Which is probably why Jennifer Lopez insists that eight hours of sleep is her secret weapon!
Critically important biological processes occur when we sleep. Cells reproduce and repair. Emotional brain activity ceases. Memories are stored. And growth hormones are released in kids.
In fact, a sleep routine has been shown to:
- Increase attention
- Strengthen memory
- Improve grades
- Spur creativity
- Alter mood
- Reduce stress
- Increase stamina
- Keep us alert
How much sleep?
The amount of sleep varies from person to person.
Nikola Tesla slept for just two hours per night. Margaret Thatcher got by on four. Benjamin Franklin needed six hours. Bill Gates likes to get seven hours of sleep a night.
(See other famous sleep habits here).
How much sleep you need will vary depending on a number of factors including your age, how active you are, your health and sleep debt.
“Healthy sleep is critical for everyone since we all need to retain information and learn skills to thrive in life. But this is likely part of the reason children—who acquire language, social, and motor skills at a breathtaking pace throughout their development—need more sleep than adults” (Sleep Foundation, 2016).
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
“Sleep is largely controlled by sleep pressure, and the circadian rhythm, or our body clock (a 24-hour cycle that regulates all our biological and physiological processes)” (Sleep Council,2016).
Our circadian rhythm is in tune with the time of day, releasing hormones that regulate body function. It’s why we naturally wake in the morning. And why we grow tired as the day progresses.
But this natural rhythm can be disrupted. In fact, a growing pool of research suggests that light emitted from screens and electronic devices disrupt natural sleep patterns.
According to the National Health Service (NHS England), just over half of 11 to 17-year-olds say they are getting eight or more hours’ sleep a night.
Professor Jim Horne of Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre says “bedrooms are changing from a place of rest and tranquillity to places where there are lots of things to keep children awake, such as computers and televisions.
Children are often tempted to take their mobile phone to bed with them and start texting without their mum and dad knowing. This distraction means they’re not in a relaxed state for good-quality sleep, which can affect their learning“.
Dr Horne goes on to argue that firm night-time limits on screen use are the way forward.
But falling and staying asleep can be challenging for both parents and kids.
The following guide is written to help you get your child to sleep. But many of the tips shared will help you too!
And remember, every child is different. Experiment with a combination of these techniques as you put together your own formula that works for your family.
During the Day:
- Seek out natural light. Even though we’re surrounded by electric lights, our bodies are still attuned to the sun. Open the curtains to give your child exposure to morning light and try to spend at least one hour outdoors during the day.
- Engage in physical activity. Regular exercise promotes restful sleep at any age. Encourage sports, games, and playtime. Ride bikes or throw a ball around in the backyard.
- Maintain a sensible schedule. It’s harder to come to a complete stop when you’ve been rushing around all day. Pace yourselves. Regular eating patterns will also reduce the demand for nighttime snacks.
- Take naps. Evening hours may be the only time working parents can spend with their kids. Dozing in the afternoon can compensate for slightly later bedtimes.
- Move the furniture. Your bedroom should be conducive to sleep. Take steps to ensure it’s cool, quiet and has decent curtains which block out natural light.
- Sleep comfortably. Select a comfortable, supportive mattress and pillow and remove dust and pet dander which may contribute to allergies).
- Set a sleep routine. Aim to have your child go to bed and rise at the same time each day. Stick to a similar routine over the weekend and during the holidays.
- Provide advance notice. Older children will understand a warning that it’s 10 minutes until lights out. Set a timer to avoid debate.
- Keep them off screens before bed. Artificial light stimulates our brains. Give your kids a curfew to turn off all devices a couple of hours before bed (for more on how tech affects sleep, check out this great article by The Sleep Judge).
- Wind down. Spend at least 30 minutes doing a relaxing activity. Story time creates a great transition for sleep and a lot of happy memories. It will also instill a love for learning.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual. This separates sleep from more exciting, stimulating activities. Warm baths and soft music create a soothing atmosphere. Avoid bright lights.
- Play white noise. Any monotonous sound hastens sleep. Turn on a fan or play a recording of the ocean. There are lots of great white noise videos on YouTube.
- Warm up. Warmth is also conducive to happy dreams. Give your child flannel sheets to snuggle in. Bedroom temperatures of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 21 degrees Celsius) – with 50% humidity -are usually ideal.
Do you have any top tips to get a decent nights sleep? Share them with the Habyts community in the comments section below.
But if you or your kids are still having trouble sleeping, consider speaking to a doctor. Many people suffer from sleep deprivation or insomnia – yet don’t seek help. Don’t be one of them.