Even on a good day, it doesn’t take much to disrupt good sleep habits.
When routines spiral out of control, like they have with the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be hard to stick to a bedtime—especially when it involves children.
Jason Coles, MD, a pediatric sleep medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, recommends parents adjust bedtime and wake time to meet the following recommended amount of sleep each night:
- Children ages 3 to 5: 11 to 13 hours
- Children ages 5 to 12: 10 to 11 hours
- Teens ages 13 to 18: 9 to 10 hours
And, if it’s already gone haywire, what’s the best way to establish an earlier bedtime? Decrease it by 15 minutes every three to four days, giving your child time to adjust.
For example, if your child is going to bed at 11:30 p.m., have him start going to bed at 11:15 p.m. for a few days, then 11 p.m. for a few days, and so on.
If the bedtime goal is 10 p.m., it’ll take a while to reach it.
Making sleep a priority can be challenging, but worth it.
“Sleep is such an important element in a child’s success at school and their overall health and well-being,” Dr. Coles said. “Just like with adults, lack of sleep can negatively affect memory, concentration, mood and attitude. It’s well worth the effort to ensure that your kids get the sleep they need.”
Dr. Coles noted, however, that it’s equally important to focus on wake-up time.
“Kids will have a hard time falling asleep earlier if they’re not waking up earlier,” he said.
The trick: Set the alarm to ring earlier and earlier each day until the kids are getting up at the desired time.
“Bright light exposure and physical activity, specifically in the morning, help this process to happen quicker and feel more natural,” he added.
Dr. Coles offers these 8 tips for healthy sleep habits:
- Steadily adjust to earlier sleep and wake schedules. This will set biological clocks to a new schedule.
- Avoid physical activity before bedtime and encourage physical activity in the morning upon waking.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Reading before bed is a good choice for kids of all ages.
- Create a sleep environment that is cool, quiet, dimly lit and comfortable.
- Keep television, video games and other electronics out of the bedroom. Avoid using them within one hour of bedtime.
- Eliminate or reduce caffeine.
- Eat well. Avoid big meals right before bed.
- Increase activity—just not near bedtime. Exercise and regular physical activity during the day improves sleep at night.
- Even on weekends, keep a regular sleep schedule and avoid extremes. Having a regular bedtime every day increases the likelihood that kids, including teens, will get optimal sleep.
Keeping your child to a sleep routine will make it easier to wake them in the morning and they’ll feel better and more rested during the day. And be in a better mood through the day.
But don’t expect it to be easy.
“A change in sleep habits is hard,” Dr. Coles said.
What if you have younger kids who are apt to question why they have to go to bed?
“Remind them that good sleep means more energy to have fun the next day,” he said.