Anyone at any age can experience chronic sleep loss, for any number of reasons. (In fact, your child’s morning bedhead might be one telltale warning that something is not right.) The challenge for better sleep doesn’t necessarily wait to emerge in adulthood.
Here are tips and tricks for helping young children, teens and coeds get their best sleep every night of the week and avoid bad habits that could last them a lifetime.
Help younger children get their sleep
Model good habits
We do our youngest family members a favor by providing them with healthy sleep hygiene examples. For instance:
You can show your children what good sleep behavior looks like by practicing good sleep hygiene yourself. Putting away your phone or other device, reading or doing something relaxing after dinner, and visibly preparing yourself for bedtime instill in them the importance of getting good sleep. If you have sleep problems, make sure you tackle them openly so they understand that poor sleep is not normal or healthy.
Younger children do much better when they follow regular sleep-wake routines. They respond well to nightly rituals, especially. Bathing, toothbrushing, stretches, and bedtime stories are all effective strategies for helping young ones settle in for the night. Many children who have poor sleep habits in youth end up with poor sleep habits as adults, which can be much harder to break.
Check out potential problems
Certain kinds of behaviors can be markers for undiagnosed sleep disorders. Mouthbreathing, a constantly running nose, and snoring are telltale signs that the structure of your child’s face may be leading to problems with breathing during sleeping periods as well as during the day. Even if they don’t have a sleep disorder, they may still have trouble with sleep due to untreated allergies, pain from poorly aligned teeth or jaws, or other unaddressed congenital issues.
If your child struggles with bedwetting (especially past the potty-training years), or they have night terrors or have started to sleep walk, you shouldn’t be too worried, as these issues are fairly common in children… but you should still have these behaviors checked out to make sure they aren’t indicative of other unidentified problems or conditions.
Support changes in adolescence
Don’t chalk up changes in sleep to bad behavior
Teenagers—starting, actually, with kids in the so-called “tween years” of ages 10 to 12—begin to develop what is known as delayed sleep phasing.
Delayed sleep phase is part of the adolescent transition to adulthood. It is part of the larger constellation of hormonal and developmental changes that occur in the brains and bodies of older children. It’s normal and has nothing to do with rebellion (though it might sometimes seem that way!).
You can better help your teens to manage the challenges of a later sleep cycle by encouraging them to avoid caffeine products after lunch, and by keeping an open dialog with them about their school and other activities to identify any reasons why they might be having trouble with sleep (such as stress).
Help your local community initiate a Start School Later campaign
If teens are starting school before 830am, they are probably not getting adequate sleep. An adolescent who can’t fall asleep until 1am, who must awaken at 7am in order to make it to school on time (as one example), is only getting 6 hours of sleep. Most teens need 9 hours of sleep to prevent sleep deprivation.
If your kids are in their later teen years, and they have early start times, you have probably already noticed how sleepy they are. It may be too late to launch a campaign for them, but for younger children who are not yet reached “double digits,” now is the time to put forth an effort to change school start times that reflect a more healthy alignment with teenaged circadian rhythms. The Start School Later campaign continues to successfully help schools transition for the benefit of their teen students.
Inspire your co-ed make sleep a priority
It may seem useless to advise your college-aged child on the importance of sleep. After all, if they’re away at college, what’s to stop them from doing all the things (or not doing all the things) you’ve suggested for personal success?
They may be sowing their oats, but they are also figuring out how to live on their own. One of the bigger discoveries they’ll make about themselves is how well they can sleep in a dormitory environment.
Things you can do to help college freshman survive that first year
Giving them ideas for how to sneak in some sleep. Share stories from your time away at college. Maybe you had a roommate who snored. You might have learned how late nights without sleep did not improve your grades. Or it could be that the stress of managing a new schedule kept you up at night until you figured out a way to relax at bedtime. You can also take comfort knowing that colleges are more open to the idea of naps and sleep hygiene than ever before.
Recommend blue light blocking for their devices. Many handheld electronics now how built-in blue light filters that can be set on a timer to correspond with the time of day. These can help block light exposure which can lead to delays in sleep onset due to the brain’s failure to release adequate amounts of melatonin. Another option is to buy them a pair of blue blocking “gamer’s glasses,” which are nonprescription frames with orange lenses that they can wear while doing homework or reading at night.
Encourage them to try different ways to make their dorm space conducive to sleep. Ear plugs or headphones made for sleep can keep down ambient noise. Eye masks or decorative light-blocking options for windows can help block ambient light. Aromatherapy in the form of a lavender pillow mist, or an extra heavy quilt, or a pillow top foam layer for what are frequently very hard mattresses may help drive home the point that good sleep matters.
We may think our children’s bedheads are charming, but these fashionable morning “dos” may actually be a sign of something gone awry with their sleep. Childhood is the best time to identify and address any emerging sleep health problems.
Bedheads: It’s not too late to win 4 Disneyworld day passes!
To take our poll, review the options above, then select from the options below. After the poll, visit our Facebook page to share your morning bedhead selfie (tag it with #ASAABedhead); even better, follow these instructions and your selfie might even win you four day passes to Disneyworld!
And don’t forget to pledge to get a little extra sleep in September!