By Marté Matthews, LMFT
What can parents do to make bedtimes easier for kids and families? Whether children’s sleep is disrupted by an illness, vacation travel in another time zone, or a sleep-over with friends, getting kids on a normal schedule again, with a regular bedtime can be a battle in many families.
First, learn why sleep is important and how much each person needs. Dr. Kenneth Berge explains at the website MayoClinic.com that infants need about 16 hours of sleep out of every 24. Preschoolers need 11 hours, school-aged children likely need at least 10 (but maybe more), and that teens still need about 9 hours. Adults, especially here in Silicon Valley, sleep less than the 7-8 hours they generally need. Dr. Berge goes on to explain that sleep affects the immune system, affects the nervous system’s ability to regulate concentration, memory and physical performance. If family members are grumpy and sluggish in the morning, drowsy during the day, and get sleepy when doing something quiet, the likely problem is insufficient sleep.
Second, pick your battles. Don’t try to change too much all at once. If you can, do not let wake up times drift more than 30 minutes later during a vacation. If vacation wake up times are an hour or more later than a regular week, you’ll need to begin adjusting a few days before heading back. Start by getting up closer and closer to the time you will need to arise for a school day. Drastic changes in wake times and bedtimes will leave everyone irritable, so adjust in 15-20 minute increments. Keep daytimes active and evenings quieter. Keep a regular routine with healthy snacks and predictable mealtimes. Allow for a transition period with quiet time in the evening, and a soothing pre-bedtime routine. Keep light levels lower, and turn off florescent lighting.
Third, role model the behavior you want to see. Parents’ behaviors will influence their kids’ behavior. For example: Are the parents turning the lights down low, quieting the house down, and getting ready for bed so they can awaken well-rested? Are parents on laptops and iPads until late into the evening? Are the parents only getting 5-6 hours’ sleep and typically exhausted? If so, these parents are showing kids that feeling drowsy and crabby is normal. On the other hand, turning off screens at least an hour before bedtime, reading together, enjoying some mellow music, playing a game, are all healthy family activities. Parents who demonstrate the behavior they wish to see in their children send a powerful message: this is what we do in our family.
Finally, explain to the kids that you learned something new. Explain that you learned that sleep is really important, and that getting enough sleep will help them out in lots and lots of ways, at home, at school, even with friends. Sleep keeps our bodies and our minds healthy. Sleep helps consolidate memories, so if your child has a choice to study late into the night or get enough sleep, they will actually do better on the test the next day if they choose the sleep. Help kids make a short bedtime checklist to establish a routine, including teeth brushing and a little snuggle time.
Believe it or not, getting by on only a few hours of sleep isn’t a sign of strength. Studies show that it can impair driving performance, sex lives and job performance in adults and affect kids’ social and academic performance. They won’t even realize it, until they get a few good nights’ sleep.
Get a good 8-9 hours’ sleep…and call me in the morning.