6 ways to improve children’s sleep hygiene
For many, bedtime can become a stressful time so, why is sleep hygiene so important? Developing effective sleep routines for children can be a really challenging situation. With the impact of the pandemic, lockdown and constantly changing routines, for many this has been accentuated.
So, how can we promote positive sleep?
In my previous article, ‘Sleep, Bedtime, and how many zzzz we need‘ I looked at the amount of sleep children need, the reasons why and some simple steps we can take to support it. Today, we will delve into sleep hygiene and how we can use this to promote a positive attitude to sleep, especially for older children and teens.
So, what is sleep hygiene?
Sleep Hygiene is all about good sleep habits. It refers to the behaviours and actions that we take surrounding bedtime and how these promote a positive attitude to sleep and bedtime. Sleep hygiene refers to:
- Our sleep routines
- Our sleep environment
Why is sleep hygiene important?
Sleep is an incredibly important function, for both our body and our minds. Sleep is needed for:
- For mental and emotional health
- Improves productivity
- Healing the body
- Improves mood
- Repair of the body organs, muscles and bones
- Reduces inflammation in the body
- Reduces stress
- Increases concentration and focus
- Improves memory
- Improves problem solving
- Improves performance (intellectual and physical)
What are the signs of poor sleep hygiene?
Poor sleep hygiene can be identified by:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Inconsistent sleep routines
- inconsistent sleep and wake times
- Experiencing sleep disturbance
- Being tired during the day
- Poor quantity of sleep
How do we create sleep hygiene routines?
Steps that we can take to develop a positive sleep environment:
#1 – Remove electronics – the blue light from electronics has been found to impact melatonin production, which is needed to aid sleep. Therefore, switching off electronics around an hour before bed (TV, iPads, Phones, Laptops and computer consoles/systems) supports the preparation of the brain for sleep.
#2 – Keep surfaces clear – When we go to sleep, our brains are still taking things in from our environment, keeping bedrooms as clear as possible, with minimal items out and avoiding clutter can stop over active imaginations from coming out to play when it is time to sleep. Having a good tidy up, organising storage to put away toys and keeping things as clear as possible aids our brain to switch off.
#3 – Check the temperature – NHS guidance promotes that a bedroom should be between 18 and 24 degrees when going to bed. Working out the most comfortable temperature can assist us in getting to sleep and staying asleep.
#4 – Avoid ‘working’ from your bed – Whilst it can be tempting, using a bed for homework, study or revision, develops an association with deadlines, pressure and stress which is not helpful for sleep. Instead, ensuring that your bed is ‘for sleep’ means that our brain has a positive association.
#5 – Remove any glimmers of light – The entrance of light in the early hours can rouse some people from sleep. Too much light, from lamps, overhead lights or electronics, can impact melatonin production which is needed for sleep. Where possible, investing in black out curtains or blinds to block out light can help us get to sleep and stay asleep.
#6 – Move beds away from radiators – When our beds are against radiators, as water moves through them it can stir a light sleeper, as can boilers etc. So, where possible, avoid beds being near water tanks or radiators so that sleep is disturbed as little as possible.
Steps to create positive sleep routines:
#1 – Unwind – Getting into bed straight off of doing homework, can lead to a restless toss and turn, where we cannot settle. Taking time to unwind and de-stress allows your body to prepare for sleep. You might consider:
- A warm bath
- Hot drink
- Audio books or therapeutic stories (find a collection here)
- Sleep audios
- Meditation / Relaxation exercises
- Hypnotherapy Audios (find a collection here)
- Listening to music (something calm)
- Brain dump any thoughts or ‘to do’ lists into a notebook to clear your head
#2 – Sleep time – Our brains run off of patterns, when we do the same things in a consistent pattern,they learn to repeat it. So, having a consistent bed time is imperative to training yourself to get a good night’s sleep. They say we have to do something consistently for 21 days to create a habit, perhaps you will find it is even quicker.
#3 – Wake time – Just as having a consistent sleep time is important, as is a consistent wake time. Our body’s temperature changes throughout the day to help us function. Our body is coolest at night to promote sleep, so ensuring that we utilise this aids sleep quality.
#4 – Avoid napping – Whilst a nap can be great, if your sleep quality is poor, avoiding naps and instead focussing on bed and wake times can aid sleep. If naps are used to pick up energy, keep them short and limited to early afternoon, not later.
#5 – Sleep habits – Having a routine you follow before sleep can trigger your brain to prepare for rest. For instance, before bed, putting PJs on, cleaning teeth and washing faces, and when you get up to bed, using a sleep spray, sleep audio or relaxation track, can all become signals to the brain – ‘it’s time to sleep’
#6 – Get active in the day – Low physical activity and a lack of fresh air have been found to be connected to our quality of sleep. A lack of physical activity can impact our mood, ability to unwind and our physical health. It has been found that there is a direct correlation between daily physical activity and sleep quality. Moderate intensity exercise aids stress reduction, releases endorphins and tires the body and mind which aids sleep.
#6 – Get outside – Sunlight aids our body’s productivity and the release of serotonin. Serotonin is needed to improve our mood and calm us. At nighttime, the darkness triggers the release of melatonin which aids sleep. Having time in the sunlight each day therefore supports our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms which tell us to wake and sleep.
#7 – Keep it going at the weekends – It can be so easy to let things slip at the weekend, but when developing positive sleep habits, we need to keep weekends similar to the week. Whilst bedtimes may adjust by an hour, avoid letting things slide and undoing everything you have worked for.
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