It’s 8 p.m. You’re tired. They’re tired. Patience is thin, but bedtime negotiations have just begun and it’s looking like it’ll be a long night. Sound familiar? If you’re a parent or caregiver of a child who is hesitant to get into a back-to-school bedtime routine, you’re not alone. Dr. Raelene Mapes, a pediatrician at Baptist Health Pediatric Clinic in Fort Smith, says trouble falling asleep is common among all ages of children and teens. She regularly talks to parents who are concerned about if their kids are getting enough sleep or how to get their kids to sleep. “Lack of sleep can cause problems with attention and behavioral problems, weight gain and blood pressure problems, depression and anxiety, as well as, aches and pains,” Dr. Mapes said.
Why Can’t My Child Sleep?Dr. Mapes says the first step is to identify why your child is having trouble falling asleep and address those factors. “It could be anxiety or frustration about something that happened earlier in the day,” Dr. Mapes said. “A lack of exercise or less exposure to sunshine can also interfere with sleep.” The light/dark cycle of the sun has a powerful effect on the circadian clock, sleep and alertness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your body’s circadian clock responds to light, as a signal to be awake, and dark, as a signal to fall asleep. Much like exposure to natural light can affect your sleep, artificial light –sometimes referred to as “blue light”– also plays a role. “Artificial light exposure from electronic screens like a phone, tablet or television can disrupt the body’s internal clock,” Dr. Mapes said. Dr. Mapes suggests putting away electronic devices about an hour prior to bedtime.
What Can Parents Do?Consistent adequate sleep begins with a nightly bedtime routine, according to Dr. Mapes. This could include having a set bedtime each night with calming activities such as a bath, laying out clothing or items needed for the next day, enjoying a warm drink or reading a book. It’s important to disconnect from any activities or thoughts that make you overly excited, stressed or anxious, such as television or social media. Some parents may turn to over-the-counter sleep aids, such as melatonin, for themselves or for their children. Melatonin is a hormone in your body that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle. However, Dr. Mapes warns supplements won’t fix the long-term sleep problem. “It may be given short-term while you are trying to establish good bedtime routines,” said Dr. Mapes. It is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some melatonin supplements may also contain additional ingredients or higher levels of melatonin than desired.” According to Dr. Mapes, it’s also important to consider what your child is eating and drinking throughout the day, especially in the afternoon and evening. Many sodas, sports drinks and even vitamin waters may contain caffeine or other stimulants.
How Much is Enough?We know sleep is good for us, but sometimes it’s hard to convince children to call it a night. Good sleep helps students perform better in the classroom and in sports. “Sleep is our body’s way of replenishing itself,” said Kathy Taylor, RPSGT, RST, sleep center coordinator at Baptist Health Sleep Disorder Center in Fort Smith. “While we sleep, our body slows down and allows things to rest, for instance our heart rate is slower while sleeping allowing our heart to rest.” To reap the benefits of good sleep, adults should get seven to nine hours a night, and children need even more. Babies and toddlers need 10-12 hours a night, children ages 3 to 6 years need 10 hours a night, and all children under 3 should nap during the day. Use this chart from the CDC to see how many hours of sleep per day are recommended based on age.
4 Tips for Better Sleep for the Whole Family
- Practice good sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene refers to how you prepare yourself and your surroundings for a good night’s sleep. From establishing a set bedtime to investing in new pillows or pajamas, it’s important to take notice of any habitual or environmental factors that are prohibiting sleep in your household.
- Reduce Screen Time: It’s easy to want to get caught up on your favorite TV series or scroll through a social media feed at night, but all of that time spent on a device is setting you up for failure in the morning. Put your device down.
- Take a Power Nap: There’s no shame in a quick afternoon nap. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that a 20-minute nap allows your mind and body to rest without entering the deeper stages of sleep. Most sleep researchers recommend napping before 2 p.m. so that your nap has less impact on your regular nighttime sleep.
- Talk to Your Primary Care Provider: Sometimes there are health issues that can cause sleep issues. Talk to your provider to see if you or someone in your family may have a sleep disorder.