posted: Jun 06, 2019.
Fifty to seventy million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. How do we help prevent our children from falling into this statistic? Good sleep hygiene! Sleep hygiene is made up of the practices and habits we engage in surrounding the time of going to sleep.
Sleep is essential to optimal growth and functioning of the body. The foundation for our sleep habits are laid when we are infants so developing good habits early is important. The following are age related tips on sleep hygiene. (There are situations, like neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, that can interfere with the brain’s regulation of sleep and these need to be considered separately.)
Safe sleep to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) must be practiced above all else in this age group. Babies should always sleep in their own bed, on their backs and without soft or fluffy bedding. Rocking the baby to sleep is tempting but putting babies into bed when they are sleepy but not asleep will teach the baby how to fall asleep on his own. He may cry briefly but most babies will settle to sleep with in a few minutes. Many babies respond well to techniques like swaddling and playing white noise on a sound machine as well.
Having a consistent bedtime routine is essential. This helps the baby to know when sleep time is approaching. A good routine can consist of things like a bath, brushing teeth and reading a story. It is important to put the baby to bed when she is sleepy but not yet asleep so she can learn to fall asleep on her own. Also, continue placing baby in her own bed, on her back and without soft bedding to decrease the risk of SIDS and to avoid developing the habit of co-sleeping. Babies should not take bottles or cups to bed with them as this can damage their teeth as well as creating the habit of needing a bottle to fall asleep. A good naptime routine is also important. If the baby does not get enough sleep through the day it can result in being overly tired at bedtime which makes it harder for the baby to settle into sleep.
Consistent bedtime routines are very important in helping toddlers to know when playtime is over and it is time to settle down for bed. Calm activities and low lighting, as well as avoiding electronics (ie tv, iPad) 1-2 hours before bed, helps the brain to prepare for sleep. Ensuring that toddlers have had sufficient active play time throughout the day and minimal amounts of sedentary activities (like watching tv) helps them accept bedtime better. Most children still need a daily nap until around 3-5 years old. If the child fails to get a nap, or naps for too long, it can be more difficult for him to settle to sleep. It is best to avoid using the bed for punishment, like a “time-out” spot, so there are no negative associations with the bed. Also, remember to place the toddler in his own bed to sleep (and not in bed with parents) which will allow everyone to rest better and not wake each other with nighttime movements and brief awakenings.
A good bedtime routine is still very important in alerting the child to an upcoming expectation of sleep. The bedtime should be fairly consistent, even on weekends, to keep the body in a good rhythm. A calm bedtime atmosphere with quiet activities and low lighting is helpful. Also, avoiding stimulation with substances like caffeine (even up to 4 hours before bedtime) and glowing screens from electronics (which suppress the production of melatonin in the brain) will make it easier for children to settle into sleep.
Many of the same principles for the young child (consistent bedtime routine and no stimulating substances/activities near bedtime) apply to the older child as well. Consider also keeping the location of sleep consistent; not allowing children to sleep half the night on the couch and later moving to their bed. Pre-teens and teens actually require more sleep then younger children so allowing some “catch-up” sleep on the weekends can be beneficial. Remember to avoid naps for older children, heavy meals within 1-2 hours of bedtime, as well as electronics in the bedroom which have been shown to interfere with sleep even if turned off.
This is not an exhaustive list of tips for good sleep, but hopefully it can help your family to make some good habits that will result in restful nights. If your child is experiencing persistent sleep problems please make an appointment with one of our providers to discuss it further.