Getting enough sleep helps you focus, retain information and helps to fortify your immune system. But when it comes to children, they probably aren't thinking about these benefits of quality sleep.
Many parents struggle to get their school-aged children, from ages five to 11, to willingly and peacefully wind down for bed. Dr. Nilong Vyas experienced this when raising her own kids. She is a board-certified sleep consultant and pediatrician who runs Sleepless in NOLA.
For parents and caretakers struggling to get their little ones to bed on time, Vyas shares tips on establishing healthy sleeping habits — that can benefit your entire family.
Create a bedtime routine
Vyas says building healthy sleeping habits starts with creating a routine for the entire family. This could include turning off screens, spending quality time with your children, putting on pajamas, brushing your teeth and saying goodnight.
The benefits of having a consistent bedtime schedule go beyond getting enough hours of sleep.
"I know better things will come along to make sleep seem so mundane, but if you make sleep hygiene habits and routines for your kids consistent and reliable, the kids will excel in school as well as life," says Vyas.
Vyas adds that it's important for you to create a routine that works for your family. When it comes to priorities, she says, "Making sure that they're getting enough sleep, establishing a bedtime routine that's consistent and keeping the wake time same even on weekends — those are the three primary things that if that's in place, kids will tend to do really well with sleep."
Store away anything with a screen
What may also distract your kids from falling asleep is bright light from electronic devices, says Vyas. You may have heard of melatonin, your sleep hormone. Blue light from electronics stimulates your eye's retina — and doesn't allow the melatonin to make you feel sleepy.
"So turning devices off — TVs, iPads, phones, all of it — at least an hour before bedtime is ideal," says Vyas.
During this wind-down period, you and your children may also benefit from keeping school and play areas separate — like no textbooks or laptops in the bedroom. This setup will encourage your kids to associate their bedroom with sleep.
Consistency is the magic word
Vyas says for anyone hoping to get better sleep, it all comes down to consistency. So if your family is trying out a new routine, "it usually takes being consistent for a period of three to four days before you'll see that change in behavior in the child."
Members of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reviewed more than 800 published articles and concluded that school-aged children should be getting nine to 13 hours of sleep, and teenagers should be getting eight to 10 hours to achieve optimal health.
Creating an ideal sleep environment can also help kids maintain a consistent bedtime. Vyas recommends using blackout curtains to set up a bedroom that is pitch black, with the exception of a nightlight, if necessary. You can also try using sound machines, especially if your kids are struggling to sleep through the night.
It also helps to keep your room at a lower temperature. Your body needs to dip down in temperature to achieve deeper sleep — so keeping your bedroom temperature between 67 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal range to a good night's rest.
These conditions can't be met in every home, but even a few adjustments could make a huge difference in your family's well-being.
Be prepared for the shenanigans
Cavan Images RF/Getty Images
Cavan Images RF/Getty Images
When it gets closer to bedtime, it's important to watch out for your little one's cues and body language, says Vyas. If you notice them getting tired, do not wait to start your bedtime routine. If you wait too long, your kids will no longer feel sleepy but still feel very tired — and that's when the shenanigans start.
"The shenanigans start in order to delay bedtime: I need one more hug, one more kiss. I need to go potty again. I have a bug bite. And my all-time favorite is — my child used to do this all the time — I need a Band-Aid," says Vyas. "Starting bedtime earlier definitely helps with this issue."
Vyas suggests creating a bedtime checklist that includes everything your family does before going to bed. On this list, you can also write down anything that your child typically requests like water, storytime or hugs and kisses.
"So after that bedtime routine is completed, you can have the child check off all the items," says Vyas. "It's a good reminder for the parent that all of the child's needs have been met. And so that when you go to leave and the child says, 'Oh, I need one more sip of water,' as you're trying to leave the room, you can say 'We took care of that already, sweetie. I love you. Good night. I'll see you in the morning.'"
Dr. Vyas' checklist can be found here. It can be used as a guideline for creating your and your children's sleep schedules.
The podcast portion of this story was produced by Janet W. Lee, with engineering support from Stuart Rushfield.
We'd love to hear from you. If you have a good life hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org. Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.
If you love Life Kit and want more, subscribe to our newsletter.