How Do I Get My Child to Sleep Better: 6 Small Yet Powerful Tips

How Do I Get My Child to Sleep Better: 6 Small Yet Powerful Tips

Overscheduled in the evenings? Swamped with homework? Glued to devices? Getting your child to sleep can be a struggle for a number of reasons. Most parents have some awareness of their child’s need for a good night’s sleep, despite the challenges. But did you ever consider just how powerful the impact of sleep is on your child’s mental health? 

One study conducted by Dr. Reut Gruber, found that in 7 and 8-year-olds, a short sleep duration predicted hyperactivity and impulsivity in adolescence. Difficulty sleeping at 8 years old can predict depressive symptoms by 10 years old. Interestingly, when 8-12-year-olds had bedtime adjusted just one hour later, this caused impaired functioning in emotional regulation, memory, and attention (Weissbluth, 2015, p. 77). 

This same study found that adolescents with less sleep demonstrated worsening of mood and decreased ability to regulate negative emotions. When we look at teenagers with sleep problems, this correlates with higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation, as well as alcohol and drug use. Not surprisingly, adults are also impacted by the lack of a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep can temporarily change brain function and interfere with interpersonal functioning, like decreasing the amount of empathy one shows towards others. Experts say it is ideal for children to go to sleep when they are just beginning to get drowsy, and not when they are overtired. Busy schedules and extracurricular activities can often extend in the evening hours. But ideally, children benefit from a bedtime that is about the same each night. A variation of 30-60 minutes is acceptable, however, depending on how the child is functioning during the late afternoon. The more a child experiences a non-regular bedtime, the worse their behavior typically is. Thankfully, this trend is reversible if a child moves from a non-regular bedtime to a regular one. In fact, having a regular bedtime is better than an irregular one, even if that bedtime is on the later side.

If you are the parent of a teen, it may be tempting to be more flexible on bedtimes. However, studies show that teens whose parents set their bedtime were able to sleep more, and had improved wakefulness and less fatigue. Research by Michelle Short found that even an extra 19 minutes a night had a cumulative effect on teens! This led to increased daytime functioning and improvements in emotional regulation (Weissbluth, 2015, p. 207). 

Of course, the amount of sleep a child or teen gets each night varies by age. If you’re wondering how much sleep is ideal for younger children, check out this article. For information specific to middle school and high school children, click here. 

We know the advantages of a good night’s sleep on your child’s mental health, but how do we help our child get the sleep they need? Start by implementing these small changes:

  1. There are many negative effects of screen time use prior to bed. To reduce the impact, avoid screen time at least an hour before bedtime and keep TV and all other devices (video games, phones, computers, tablets) out of the bedroom. 
  2. Instead of evening screen time, try to implement calming activities. For example, playing games, puzzles, coloring, or reading. 
  3. The bedroom should be kept cool (65-70 degrees) and dark. 
  4. Avoid caffeine (candy or beverages) that interfere with sleep. 
  5. Incorporate physical exercise into the daily routine.
  6. Establish a regular bedtime routine that is predictable and enjoyable for your child. For instance, getting in pajamas, reading books, and lights out. Perhaps you have your own special touch or family tradition to add to this routine? 

If you would like further assistance in implementing a healthy, productive, bedtime routine specific to your child, please contact us. Our therapists at North Shore Family Services are here to help! 

Source: Weissbluth, Marc. (2015). Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Ballantine Books.

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