Sleep is vital for our bodies and brains, and getting enough sleep helps children be more resilient during stressful times. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the younger we are, the more sleep we need. Newborns typically need 14 — 17 hours sleep, while young adults usually need 7 – 9 hours sleep. What happens when we don’t get enough sleep? We have trouble concentrating and learning. We’re less likely to fend off illness and stress. We’re more likely to lose our patience, behave erratically, and make poor food choices.
Try these 6 habits to help the children and teens in your life get the sleep their bodies and minds need.
Establish and stick to a bedtime routine
Most children appreciate predictability in their schedules. Saying good-bye to the day in a peaceful and consistent way can set the tone for restful and rejuvenating sleep. Try to enact a predictable bedtime with calming activities, such as a warm bath, transitional songs, lullabies, bedtime stories, or a special and consistent way of tucking your children in. It’s never too late to start a new routine, and you may be surprised at how comforting some of these habits remain into the teen years. Of course, there are late nights and special occasions, but having a predictable bedtime and routine most nights helps with sleep and offers the additional benefit of family bonding.
Allow enough transition time at bedtime
Some kids have a harder time with transitions than others. Be sure to include enough time each night to wind down. Older children need time for transitions, too. Try to have them stop their homework, turn off technology, and leave a half hour or for quiet reading, reflecting, or family sharing about non-stressful topics before bed.
Schedule enough hours of sleep
Many children simply don’t have enough hours in which to sleep. If your kids have trouble waking up, or seem tired during the day, consider saying “no” to more activities, in favor of getting adequate sleep. Teach them to budget their time to prevent as many late-night homework sessions as possible. And don’t forget to lead by example — be sure to get enough sleep yourself.
Ensure that bedrooms are technology-free
For most kids, computers and phones in bedrooms are so tempting that they’ll pass up sleep in order to stay on their devices. Even when they’re not in use, the blue light from computer and other screens can prevent the body’s release of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep. Keep devices outside of bedrooms, to charge up overnight as your kids do. Consider using an inexpensive travel alarm clock instead of a phone alarm. In addition, turning off screens an hour before bed leads to better sleep.
Advocate for later school start times
Between their natural circadian rhythms, which keep them up late, and early school start times, teens are especially sleep-deprived. We can help them by advocating for later school start times and, in the meantime, ensuring that they get the sleep their brains and bodies need.
Get help with sleep issues
If your child is having specific sleep issues, remember that our Parent Educators and therapists are here to help. Learn more, attend a workshop, or schedule a consultation with our professional staff.
Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun and grew out of her blog, Slow Family Online, from which this is adapted. Slow Parenting and the book were named a 2012 Top 10 Parenting Trend by TIME Magazine. Suz has written for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog, and many others. She writes articles for JFCS’ Center for Children and Youth.