Parents often have a love/hate relationship with bedtime. You love the quiet after the kids have gone to bed but hate the bedtime battle. Everyone needs sleep—parents and kids. Many of the same tactics and methods that will improve the quality of your child’s sleep can help you too. Besides, if you can smooth their way to bedtime, it will make your bedtime that much more relaxing and welcome.
Bedtime for Kids (and Parents)
Does your child’s bedtime change depending on the day of the week or the fullness of the schedule? If so, the inconsistency could be at the heart of sleep issues. The human body relies on recognizable patterns to correctly time any number of biological processes, including sleep. However, the brain has to recognize when to start the release of sleep hormones.
A consistent bedtime allows the brain to adjust the release of hormones so that it’s the same every day. The more consistent you can be, the better your child’s body will respond to those hormones. Kids aren’t the only ones who need a consistent bedtime. Adult bodies rely on behavioral patterns as well so make sure you’re hitting the pillow at the same time each night.
Get Rid of Screens at (or Near) Bedtime
Every improvement in technology comes with unexpected consequences. Those screens we all stare at—televisions, laptops, smartphones, even e-readers—can emit a blue light that causes the brain to suppress sleep hormones. During the day, that’s not a problem but at night it causes a delay in the sleep cycle.
Try setting a curfew for screen-time so that everyone’s unplugged two to three hours before bed. The adult brain is affected by blue light just as a child’s so consider shutting everything down earlier for the sake of your health too.
Don’t Ignore Comfort
Children can be sensitive to any kind of physical discomfort. Check your child’s pajamas, mattress, and bedding for any tags or stickers that could keep him awake. A new mattress or pair of pajamas could even have an odor that bothers your child. Organic mattresses often have certifications that measure harmful off-gassing to take care of those kinds of issues before you’re trying to coax your five-year-old into bed.
Comfort isn’t just physical. Emotional comfort is often critical to the success of your child’s sleep. A favorite blanket, stuffed animal (as long as it doesn’t have anything that poses a strangulation hazard), or another comfort item can relieve fear and anxiety. You might want to have several of the same item so there’s always a clean one available.
Rely on a Routine
Kids like routine and structure. It helps them make sense of the world and trains their minds and bodies how to function. Kids have a harder time controlling their energy levels than adults. A routine gives them a chance to calm themselves before bed. Routines also send signals to the brain so it recognizes when to begin the sleep cycle.
The routine can include anything that calms your child but it’s often best to start with the most active activities before moving to the quiet ones. Picking up toys and changing into pajamas may come before brushing teeth and reading a book with mom and dad. But, like a bedtime, the routine is most effective when it’s consistent. Start it at the same time and do it in the same order every night so your child, and subconsciously his brain, knows what to do.
Your child may need more sleep than you but it’s absolutely necessary for the health of everyone in your family. You don’t need to make changes all at once. Start small by checking your child’s physical comfort before you take away screen-time and get strict with bedtime. As you make changes one step at a time, your evening will soon be structured to support healthy sleep. It might take some adjustments, but in the long run, everyone will sleep better.
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