It’s 8 p.m. Where is your child?
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
A sound sleep is one of the most most life-changing gifts you can give your child.
Bedtime can be a difficult and frustrating time for parents. Who has the energy to chase the little owls to sleep after a long day at work? Yet, children who follow a consistent sleeping schedule and get adequate amounts of sleep show improved learning, attention, memory and behavior.
Sadly, the prevalence of sleep depravation is more evident today than ever before— chronic insufficient sleep has become a public health crisis. While our bodies have a natural tendency to sleep more, children today live sedentary indoor lives with increased use of technology.
I've witnessed students dozing while reading out loud, dragging their feet as they walk through the halls, persistently confused, unable to focus or make decisions, emotionally vulnerable and highly reactive. The effects of lack of sleep are not only unhealthy but potentially dangerous.
When brain neurons are over-worked, they can no longer function to communicate information properly, and children as well as adults loose the ability to remember and think clearly. Not surprisingly,
80% of teens sleep less hours than the recommended nine hours per night, especially during school days.
Telling my teenager to go to bed at a decent time was like pushing a spaghetti up a hill. "Just five more minutes, mom!"
Have a dialogue with your child regarding the importance of developing good sleeping habits. Long-term sleeplessness can have detrimental effects on our health and safety as evidenced in the following infographic form John-Hopkins Medicine. Sharing this information may be eye-opening to older children.
If you want to change ineffective sleeping habits, experts recommend the use of a fading technique— turning back the clock 15 minutes per day, until you reach the desired sleeping time. How much sleep do children need largely depends on their age, but there are some general guidelines. In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), along with a multi-disciplinary expert panel, issued its new recommendations for optimal sleep durations:
Develop a Ritual
Unlike routines, rituals are not a fixed program. Rituals provide a sense of calm and joyful structure that can be molded over time.
Time keeper. Choose the appropriate time to begin your little one's unwinding ritual and stick to it like Velcro. While bedtimes may vary as your child grows, a time compromise can be reached within the recommended time frame by communicating openly with your child. Older children can be encouraged to come up with 3 things to do before going to bed.
Turn it off. Avoid screen time at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Televisions and/or other screens produce a form of blue light that suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that has an effect on our daily circadian rhythms, and can reduce both the quantity and quality of sleep. Too much screen time results in less amount of sleep.
Tidy up. The bedroom environment should be a calm and uncluttered space. An organized space gives the child an intrinsic sense of of order that will likely be replicated later on in other areas such organizing school work. Involve your child in the clean-up process.
Do not do for your child what he can do for himself. ~ Maria Montessori
Passive prelude. Set the stage for bedtime. Closing the curtains and dimming the lights can help create a serene atmosphere.There are many activities that can help a child unwind. For a toddler, a ritual may involve a familiar tune or bedtime story— a passive activity that tells the brain and body, "It's time to chill." No other time in the child's development will be as welcoming to affection than the stages of infancy through childhood. Take the time to squeeze the extra ounce of love.
I was recently invited to speak to a group of parents at a Montessori school Open House on the topic of creating a literacy-rich environment at home. Reminiscing on my teenage years, I shared how I would read with a flashlight under the covers into the wee hours. A parent in the crowd raised his hand:
"But what do you do if you have a teenager that can't stop reading?" I replied, "Well, that is what I call a good problem."
Help your teenager(s) develop fatigue awareness so they can make better choices about their sleeping habits independently. Encourage them to compare and contrast how their body and mind feel when they wake-up rested vs. tired. It is all about balance, right?
Whether reading, writing, drawing sketches, or stretching in Downward Facing Dog, these activities can be healthy conduits for self-expression, creativity, and have positive effects on overall wellness.
Self-care. Taking care of your body promotes good health and can help ward off illnesses. Personal hygiene practices such as hand-washing, showering, and tooth brushing, are essential part of a self-care ritual. As children get older, they can learn how to floss, shave, trim their nails, and choose their clothes for the next day.
Sleep depravation is a big deal. As guiding adults we have the tall order to lead the way by example. By fueling the brain with the appropriate amount of sleep, your child's tank will always stay full!