Children and teens need more sleep than adults, and often don’t get enough of it! Lack of quality sleep can contribute to mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression, as well as behavioral concerns. Lack of sleep may also impact academic and/or athletic performance, and affect teens’ ability to drive safely. Read on for some ideas of how you can help your child get a good night’s sleep…
The bed is a place for sleep
Many times children or teens will hang out in bed during the day, after they come home from school, or on the weekends. Their bed may be the only place where they feel they can relax alone comfortably. Children and teens may text their friends, use social media, do homework, or listen to music while lying in bed.
At night, children and teens try to fall asleep in the same bed, but it may not work too well. When they can’t sleep, they may toss and turn for a while, and go back to texting, using social media, etc. because that’s something they do in bed at other times. This habit may cause them to stay awake even later.
It’s helpful for children and teens to have a dedicated space for sleep. This way, when they get into bed at night, they will associate their bed with sleeping, rather than other activities, and may be more likely to fall asleep.
Trouble getting to sleep
When children or teens have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night, it may help them to get up out of bed instead of tossing and turning, and go get a drink of water, or sit in another room and do something quietly for a little a while… something that does not involve screens! Then, when they feel like they’re ready to go to sleep, they can transition back into bed.
If worries keep your child up at night, encourage your child to do some freewriting or draw what they’re feeling when they can’t sleep. If they can write, it may help them to write down their worries, put their writing aside, and rest assured that their concerns will be there for them to deal with tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep. They can remind themselves they don’t need to figure it all out at night. Your child or teen may want to keep paper and drawing or writing implements near a lamp on a nightstand so they can access them easily at night.
Irregular sleep schedules
Another factor that affects children’s ability to sleep, is an irregular sleep schedule. This especially affects teens, who tend to want to spend time with friends at night, and go to nighttime parties and social events. Unfortunately, staying up later on certain days can throw teens’ whole sleep schedule off.
It helps to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. A good rule of thumb is bedtime and wake up time should not vary more than 1-2 hours, even on the weekends. This is sometimes easier said than done… but something that may be useful to work towards.
Having a bedtime routine that allows your child or teen to wind down and relax before bed, can go a long way to helping them sleep well. Turning off electronic devices 1-2 hours before bed prevents the blue light emitted by electronics from interfering with your child’s melatonin production. It can also help them avoid visual overstimulation before bed.
Taking a shower or bath, reading, drawing, writing, playing with blocks or legos, listening to calming music, or having some tea may all help your child wind down naturally. If your child is already in the habit of using electronic devices before bed, these non-electronic alternatives may not seem appealing initially. Encourage your child to find something that works for them. Modeling the kind of bedtime behavior you want to encourage may also help.
Cultivating an environment conducive to sleep is also important, especially for children with sensory sensitivities. You can help your child get a good night’s sleep by making sure the bedroom temperature is on the cool side, and the room is quiet and dark. If your child can’t sleep, ask them if something about the environment is bothering them. They may be able to help pinpoint something about their room that is easy to fix.
Tracking sleep habits
Finally, if you or your child can’t figure out why they are having trouble sleeping, it may help to use a tracking tool that can help you notice patterns. Sleep tracking tools help you keep track of how well your child eats, how much they exercise, how much social time they have each day, as well as other variables that affect sleep, so you can see how these different factors affect their sleep each night. What you find may be illuminating. If you can’t find a tracker that meets your child’s needs, make one of your own.
You can help your child get a good night’s sleep with some focused attention, curiosity, and patience. At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.