I preach about sleep to kids all the time, both at the office and at home. It’s one of my three most important things for overall health along with eating nutritious foods and daily exercise. Most of us don’t get enough sleep. Here are some tricks to get in a few extra minutes each day… they all add up!
Most of these tips are appropriate not only for kids and teens, but also for their parents! In November I wrote about the problems I often see with teen sleep deprivation specifically.
A great infographic of this is found at the Sleep Foundation.
Warning: It shows generalizations. For example, when tweens and teens go through a growth spurt many need 10-11 hours of sleep per night, which is more than the graph shows.
Just remember that individuals are just that: individual.
Think of sleep as a currency.
We can go into sleep debt when we don’t get enough. If it’s just a little loss of sleep, it’s easy to catch up and pay back the debt. The further into debt you go, the harder it is to get out of debt.
Don’t let the bank come after you in terms of health problems!
Listen to your body and teach kids to listen to their needs.
If you’re tired, you need more sleep. It’s sometimes easy to recognize but not always. Some kids are notoriously not able to do this well.
The longer you stay up, the harder it will be to fall asleep. It’s ironic, but sleep deprivation leads to insomnia. If you suffer, try to allow extra zzz’s on a weekend to fill the deficit. But don’t let the sleep deprived person sleep in so late that he can’t go to bed on time that night.
Many parents have realized that the later the kids stay up, the earlier they wake. Despite waking early, they didn’t get enough sleep. Behavior shows that they’re tired when they don’t sleep enough – you might see whining, tears, frustration, and irritability when this happens.
Many kids get hyper when they’re tired, so don’t be fooled if they have lots of energy in the evening. If they don’t wake easily in the morning or are whiny during the day, they are tired!
Go to bed and get up at the same times every night and morning. If you let your kids stay up later on a weekend, be sure it isn’t more than 2 hours past their ideal bedtime.
Remember that going to bed just 15 minutes late each weeknight gives over an hour less sleep during the week – it all adds up!
Resetting the internal clock.
If someone has a hard time getting up, have them get natural sunlight as soon as possible in the morning. It helps set the circadian rhythm. If you can’t get natural sunlight, turn on lights in your home.
Use a night mode on a screen if you must work online prior to bed – a common problem for teens who have homework these days. I have used a free app called f.lux with great success. I can tell the difference in tiredness and ability to fall asleep when I have this active on my computer.
There are many ways to wind down before climbing into bed.
- Journal before bed if thoughts keep you awake. People who spend bedtime thinking about everything can’t sleep. Jot a few things down to give yourself permission to not think anymore. Sounds weird, but this “worry list” works for many people!
- Coloring is another way to relax. It’s not just for kids anymore!
- Learn meditation. There are many apps available for smartphones and tablets, just do a search in your store. I refer kids to Stop, Think, & Breathe often. There’s also an adult version. I have many of these apps (mostly free) on my Mindfulness Pinterest Page.
- Belly Breathing is very effective and can be taught to kids. Some kids will put a stuffed animal on their tummy and try to raise the animal with a slow, deep breath.
- Set the mood in the room: darken the room, get the temperature “just right”, and find the number of blankets that helps you sleep. Setting up a fan or other white noise maker helps many people sleep. For more tips on setting up the perfect room for sleeping, see Bedroom.
- Weighted blankets have been shown to help many people, especially those with anxiety fall asleep faster but there is a concern about safety when used by kids.
- Listen to Weightless – music that’s been shown to help initiate sleep.
- Reading at bedtime can be a great relaxing thing, but if you have a page turner, be careful to not get caught up in the book for hours. I find that stopping at a lull mid-chapter is better than waiting until the end of a chapter. A good author leaves you hanging at the end of a chapter and begging for more! Set a time limit and stop reading when time’s up! That’s what bookmarks are for.
- Take a warm bath. This can help relax you for a good night’s rest.
- Ask a family member to give you a massage or back rub. Again, a great way to relax!
- Warm milk or herbal teas might help some sleep.
Be active during the day.
Lounging around makes you feel more tired during the day, but it’s then harder to fall to sleep at night.
Experts recommend avoiding exercise for a few hours before bedtime, but I know that is really hard for kids in sports. I don’t have a great fix for that, unfortunately.
Skip the snooze.
Kids and their parents who hit snooze several times miss out on all that sleep that they are in a half awake zone. If you really don’t need to get up until the 3rd snooze time, set the alarm for that time. You will be more well rested so it will be easier to get up immediately. Train your body (or your kids) to get up at that time. After several days of an extra few minutes of sleep, you’ll notice the difference!
Kids sleep alone.
Keep kids out of the parent bed so everyone gets the best sleep. Snoring, different bedtime, and other body movements makes it hard to sleep together. No one sleeps well, which makes everyone grumpy the next day.
If kids are anxious about sleeping in their own room, see The Most Common Reasons Why Kids Are Afraid To Sleep.
Pets can either help an anxious child calm down and sleep or can keep kids awake. Know the situation and act accordingly.
If pets make noise or try to wake their person, they should not be in the bedroom at night.
If the pet is quiet and lets kids sleep, they can provide reassurance to a child who doesn’t like being alone. But be sure they don’t wake the child!
Melatonin is a hormone that’s made in our body and helps us feel tired. It’s also available as a supplement. I think that if other sleep techniques fail it can be a great sleep aid, but I also think that if you’re going to give it to your child you should talk to his physician first.
Dr. Craig Canapari is a pediatric sleep expert who has written a great deal on how melatonin works, when it would be appropriate to try it, what concerns there are regarding melatonin, and more. Check out his Melatonin Guide for Parents.
Most of us know that caffeine will help wake us up, but many think they can drink it later in the day and it doesn’t affect their sleep. Dr. Melissa Welby has a great blog on how caffeine works and what it does to our sleep cycle.
Don’t be fooled with hidden sources of caffeine. I have occasionally gotten ice cream with coffee for a family bedtime treat, only to find out upon tasting it that it had coffee. Caffeine is often added to drinks, so read labels. But be careful! It might not say caffeine directly. Some are labeled as “guarana” — a plant with caffeine. Pretty much anything that is labeled as an energy drink (or food) is a likely culprit. Even decaf coffee has a small amount. Chocolate naturally has caffeine… the darker the chocolate the higher the caffeine content. Some pain relievers and other medicines have caffeine.
Especially for those not accustomed to caffeine, it will disrupt sleep even if taken several hours before bedtime.