By Debra K. Waranch, LCSW-C
Sleep is essential to a child’s healthy life. Most school age children need 10-12 hours a night for their physical wellbeing, growth, and successful daily functioning. Children who don’t get enough sleep or who sleep poorly are more likely to be disorganized and have behavior and academic problems. They are also more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Think about it: don’t we adults tend to be more cranky, impatient, and less able to concentrate when we don’t have a good night’s sleep? How much more so for children, who are still developing. Children who do not learn healthy sleep patterns early on usually develop into difficult sleepers and suffer from lifelong sleep issues.
Winter, when darkness comes early, is the perfect time to assess your child’s sleep habits. Most children today, from a very young age, have busy days filled with academics, sports, arts, and socializing. After these long, full days, kids are usually tired and ready for bed. When it’s dark outside, most children adjust and move easily towards sleep. Their bodies actually crave comfort and rest.
Having a prepared plan and structure will make bedtime much more pleasant for both parent and child, and will help your child form healthy sleep habits. Here are some guidelines.
- Set a specific time for bed each night and maintain it.
- Have a comfortable nighttime routine designed to help your child wind down and go to sleep in a relaxed frame of mind.
- Watch your child’s late night food intake. Eating heavily and eating too many sweets before bed can make for restless sleep.
- Avoid using the computer and watching TV before bed because they can cause nightmares and disrupt sleep.
- Turn off all technology and keep it out of the bedroom. Excessive light and noise (such as constant beeps, cellphone light) hinder sleep.
- It is essential that children learn to fall asleep on their own. Kids need their own routine to fall asleep, in order to feel in control of their sleeping. In essence, they are learning to take care of themselves, and they gain a sense that “I can do this.”
Many things can get in the way of your child’s sleep, if you let them. The key is to place a premium on sleep, just as much as on other activities. Following a regular, predictable routine takes the drama out of bedtime and helps your child transition smoothly to sleep. And while you’re at it, take a look at your own sleep behavior. If you as the adult practice and model good habits, your entire family will be well rested and ready to face their day with success.
By Debra K. Waranch, LCSW-C, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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