The alarm goes off. You hit the snooze and roll over. You know you need to get up, how honestly how much sleep did you actually get? Not only are our children not getting enough sleep, but neither are we! Sleep deprivation in America has become a normal state of mind. We joke about drinking large pots of coffee to be functional throughout the day, and once the night hits we are staring at our devices until the wee hours of the morning. It’s extremely unhealthy for us and now our children are following suite.
According to the National Sleep Foundation adults ages 18-64 should get 7-9 hours of sleep. Adolescents 14-17 should get 8-10 hours, and children younger than this should sleep 9-12 hours a night. But that is not what is happening! Did you know that, according to a recent study from the CDC, 6% of middle schoolers are getting less than 4 hours of sleep? Did you know that 7% of high schoolers are getting four hours or less of sleep? Did you know that overall 73% of young adults aren’t getting sufficient sleep?
How is Sleep Deprivation Affecting Our Health?
Sleep is essential for our body to repair itself and function properly. Did you know that long-term sleep deprivation can actually kill you? After about 11 days your body becomes dysfunctional. Sleep deficiency causes
- an increased risk of obesity and many other preventable diseases
- problems with decision-making
- problem solving
- Controlling our emotions and behaviors
In children it also
- increases their impulsivity
- leads to mood swings
- increase their chances of depression
My eldest son, now 10 years old, is a notoriously light sleeper. That child can go to bed at 11pm and still wake up at 6am the next morning! At first I started to buy into the idea that he may just be one of those people who don’t need much sleep. For many years, I believed the same about myself. However I started to see a pattern in his behavior. He was even less focused than usual, very emotional, and could hardly control his emotions.
As many of you fellow parents know, it can be challenging to deal with a sleep deprived child, regardless of age. However at a young age my son was diagnosed with ADHD and Anxiety. So the struggle to stay on task and regulate his emotions was real on a good day, let alone one with less sleep. But the issue we ran into was that he had a very difficult time not only falling asleep, but staying asleep. So we scoured the internet and had many talks with doctors about the best ways to help him get better sleep. We tried countless methods over the last 4 years and at times it seemed hopeless! However after years of trial and error we did find a handful of methods that truly seemed to improve his sleep patterns. So I have outlined these tricks below so that hopefully they will help you find a more restful sleep for either yourself, or your children.
15 Steps to Better Sleep
Save the bed for sleep only
Sometimes if children play in their bed rather than just sleep it can trigger an energetic time instead of a time to calm down and rest.
Get enough exercise throughout the day
We all need regular exercise, so much so that it can affect our nightly shut-eye. Our children are the same way. Many will tell you 60 minutes of vigorous exercise or play a day for children are best. Although I agree I’ve found that in a pinch a 20 minute circuit workout will suffice.
Power down electronics 30-60 minutes prior to bed time.
This fast paced UV light shining in their faces has been shown to disrupt our sleep patterns and can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Read a book for about 15-20 minutes before bed.
This quiet activity will help to quiet the world and take your mind off the events of the day, allowing your mind to unwind and prepare for sleep.
Try some calming Chamomile Tea about an hour before bed
The herb is a natural sleep aid and will warm you right up before crawling under the covers. This one may not be appealing to children though.
Use an aroma candle or pillow sachet scented with Lavender.
Lavender is an herb that is known for its natural ability to relieve stress and create a calming sensation. (Warning: I would recommend not ingesting and if using on small children, keep the actual plant out of their reach as is may be potentially harmful to their sensitive skin)
Make the room as dark as possible
Removing the light helps our brains to get a deeper more restful sleep. This can be done by removing electronics from the room, turning your alarm clock around, or putting up black out curtain.
Examine and adjust your diet
Although it may be hard to believe, the food we ingest has an impact on our sleep. It may be something that you have to determine through trial and error, but it is worth finding out. For some its dairy products, for my son it was sugar. Once we eliminated that from his diet he started having a much easier time falling asleep.
Create a bedtime routine
Create a routine that you or your child can do each night, and stick to it as best as a possible. The boundaries and routine help your child feel secure and once they get used to it, will have less resistance to the process
Set a bed time and stick to it!
I feel like this should go without saying, but unfortunately it must be said. Young children should not be up until the late hours of the night! Too often I see little ones that are up passed 10 pm on a school night. These children need sleep and as parents it is our job to draw a boundary and hold them to it.
Set a bedtime alert or reminder
For us that was an alarm on my phone. It was a precursor to his bedtime routine beginning. It gives him a warning that tells him it’s time to finish up what you’re doing.
Take a warm shower
This helps them to wash off the day and start to unwind.
Cool down the bedroom
Our body temperatures naturally decrease a few degrees as our bodies begin to tire. This lower temperature helps to signal our bodies that it’s time for sleep.
Once in Bed do some mindfulness exercises; either breathing, muscular, or meditation.
This can be a 4-7-8 breathing technique suggested by some. It can be a muscular exercise where you start with your feet and tighten your muscles one at a time for a few seconds and upon release, breathe out slowly, letting go of your stress. Or if you are religious it could be meditation or a prayer to help bring your mind some space to calm down and release worry.
Try a weighted blanket
For those that are anxious, have ADD/ADHD or another sensory disorder this may do wonders for you. I know it made a huge impact on my son! He said it’s just like being hugged all night. Once adding this to his nightly routine he began to sleep the night.
I cannot stress enough just how important a good night’s sleep is for our health and our cognitive functioning. I hope you find these tricks to better sleep as useful as we have found them. If you have any additional suggestions or tips, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to go to our contact us page and shoot me a message or leave a comment below!