Sumer is here and with it are the longer days and warmer nights. It’s the time of year we all look forward to, but when it finally arrives we are often faced with the challenge of children who don’t want to go to bed or can’t sleep because it’s still bright outside.
Along with good nutrition and regular exercise, sleep is so essential to children’s overall health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that children who get regular sleep have improved attention, learning, memory and mood. Sleep is also essential for growth and development and overall physical and mental health.
If your kids are anything like mine, from June to August the battle is on to get them into bed and asleep at a reasonable hour. Here are my top tips for getting a better night’s sleep this summer.
A consistent sleep schedule: Children love routine and sticking to a regular bedtime schedule over the summer months is important. If necessary, adjust bedtimes for school holidays but try to stick to that for the summer months. Adjust back gradually in the days before school starts again in September. Going to bed later and waking up later than usual or at irregular times disrupts the body clock, putting their natural sleep and wake rhythms out of sync. One of the best things you can do to promote good sleep is to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends.
No Technology before bed: Consider a technology curfew, switching off all devices at least 1- 2 hours before bed. Ideally, keep computers, TV’s, phones and gaming devices out of the bedroom as this will reduce the mental and emotional stimulation which often keeps children awake at night. Electronic devices omit a blue light which has been shown to reduce or delay the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone released in the evening to help us feel tired and ready for sleep. If we are to ensure our kids are getting good quality sleep every night, we need to be aware of their usage of devices and put the appropriate measures in place if necessary to protect their sleep.
Get plenty of fresh air: Getting kids outside and exposing them to fresh air and natural light will help them sleep better at night. Daylight promotes sleep by setting the body’s daily circadian rhythm and regulating sleep patterns. Get out for a walk in the morning, enjoy daily exercise outdoors, do some gardening or have meals and snacks outside. Regular exercise is important and can help promote sleep quality and duration, but please don’t fall into the trap of trying to wear them out with the hope that they will fall asleep at night. More often than not, this can leave a child feeling overtired, unable to get over to sleep and stay asleep.
A relaxing bed-time routine: Keep any activities before bedtime calm and create a relaxing environment that will help kids relax and unwind. Ensure the bedroom environment is right for sleep by keeping the room cool, dark and TV or gadget free. This one is important for adults too. Make sure the bedroom is dark - blackout blinds and curtains are a great investment. Ensure there are no screens or TV’s in the bedroom and remove over stimulating toys. These things will make it easier for a child to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Keep the bedroom cool: Sleep cycles are affected by light but they are also very sensitive to temperature. The ideal temperature to help with the onset of sleep is 17 - 20 degrees Celsius. A cool room can help lower the body temperature which in turn naturally signals to the body that it’s time to sleep. Buy a cheap room thermometer online and keep the bedroom cool by opening a window or putting a fan in the room.
Sleep needs vary from child to child, but the general rule of thumb is that under 3’s need app 12 hours sleep per night. 4-6 year olds need between 10-11.5 hours sleep, 6-12 year olds need 10 hours and teenagers about 8-9 hours. Yet research found that over 1/3 of 7-14 year olds don’t go to bed until around 9pm on a school night, therefore getting less than the required amount of sleep for their growth and development. Familiarise yourself with sleep recommendations by age and try to ensure they are getting as close to that as possible.
Talk to your child about the importance of sleep and how it affects their overall health. Set a good example by prioritizing your own sleep.
I hope you find these tips useful. Sleep well and have a wonderful summer!