Creating a healthy sleep schedule is the first major hurdle that many parents encounter with their little ones. Getting enough sleep is crucial for your child's healthy development as well as your own health. Here are four tips you can use to help your children learn healthy sleep habits.
1. Ease Into a Normal Sleep Schedule
It's important to understand that a child's developing brain simply isn't wired for sleep like an adult's brain. Babies aren't born with a circadian rhythm that is tuned to nightly sleep cycles. Until children are around six years old, they continue to need 12 or more hours of sleep per day. These conditions cause bedtime resistance and other sleep disturbances in approximately 25 percent of children.
The right way to help children adjust to a normal sleep schedule is to ease into it. Take note of the time that your child begins to naturally feel tired in the evening, and set bedtime a little earlier or later than normal as needed. This way, you can start with your child's natural sleep schedule and gradually move toward a more standard schedule in increments of half an hour to an hour per day.
2. Develop a Bedtime Routine
For many children, a set routine helps them feel safe and comfortable because they know what to expect next. This is why a bedtime routine is such an effective method to put kids in the right mindset for sleep. A bedtime routine also communicates to your child that it's time for bed and playtime has ended for the day.
You can start your child's bedroom routine each day with an evening meal or snack, followed by the day's last diaper change and/or bath. Dental hygiene and a bedtime story are staples of happy bedtime routines. Kids who are resistant to bedtime may feel more in control if they are allowed choices, such as choosing their pajamas and bedtime story for the night.
3. Limit Screen Time in the Evening
Watching TV and using computers or mobile devices in the late evening can be detrimental for sleep. Electronic entertainment can get a child's mind buzzing with activity when they should be winding down for sleep.
Limiting TV and device usage to a few hours before bedtime can mitigate the negative impact of screens on your child's sleep. Additionally, many mobile devices and televisions now include software features such as blue light filters and dark mode when nighttime use is necessary.
4. Create a Sleep-Healthy Diet
Many parents are surprised to learn that their child's diet plays such a large role in getting healthy sleep. While caffeine is an obvious offender, many other dietary choices can impact sleep by altering hormone and nutrient levels. Poor sleep is also associated with an increased risk of obesity, a further reason to create a sleep-healthy diet for your child.
Fatty and high-glycemic foods are harmful to sleep because they trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol keeps the brain in an alert state, so you should limit foods like potato chips, cheese, cereals, and yogurt in the late evening. Foods like poultry, fish, and whole-wheat bread are great low-fat and low-glycemic options to include in your child's dinner.
You and your children may not always be on the same page when it comes to sleep, but these tips can help you work toward a sleep schedule that is healthy for your household. Don't hesitate to talk to your child's pediatrician for more helpful advice to promote healthy sleep habits! Look for a professional who can provide pediatric care if your child needs more sleep or you need help getting them to sleep.