Children led busy lives between their school days, social calendar and extra-curricular activities.
We reached out to Rebecca Earl, a Toronto sleep consultant, for her suggestions on helping set up school-age children for a good night’s sleep. She’s sharing 5 tips to help make sure your child get’s the rest they need to be prepared for the school day.
Many children are too tired to get enough physical activity during the day. Unfortunately, these same children may also not be active enough to fall asleep at night.
Findings from the 2016 Participation Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth highlight some troubling trends between sedentary lifestyle, physical activity and sleep among Canadian Youth. “33% of Canadian children aged 5 to 13, and 45% of youth aged 14 to 17, have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.” Their research suggests that even children that get an appropriate among of sleep for their age aren’t getting good quality of sleep. Poor sleep hygiene such as inconsistent bedtimes and electronic usage are likely factors.
Try this: Look at Active For Life for a whole range of resources to get active with your kids indoors or outdoors, even when you only have 10 minutes to spare.
Address Fears, Anxieties and Stress
The combination of academics and social interactions during a typical school day can weigh heavily on a child. Since anxiety and stress can manifest itself in a number of ways, you may not always recognize that your child is struggling. If your child is having difficulty settling at night, waking throughout the night and/or struggling with early mornings don’t make assumptions. Ask your child to help you understand what is interfering with their sleep.
Dwelling on negative experiences during the day while trying to fall asleep can lead to delays in falling asleep. Take time each day to work through anything that might be on your child’s mind prior to going to bed.
Try this: Introduce your child to journalling, even at an early age. Provide them with an unlined journal and encourage them to write or draw about both their positive and negative experiences that day. Then sit down together and have your child explain their entry to you to help address and fears, anxieties or sources of stress.
Homework can be a source of frustration and anxiety for many children. Find a time in the evening that provides your child with enough time to complete homework before fatigue starts to set in. Fatigue makes it difficult to focus. That lack of focus will likely lead to delays in completing homework (pushing bedtime later) and additional frustration (making it difficult to calm down before bed).
Also consider making your child’s bedroom a “homework free” zone. A cluttered workspace in the bedroom also has the potential to distract your child, or cause further stress and anxiety while they are trying to settle in for the night.
Try this: Cut down on the amount of time spent completing homework by incorporating required reading into the bedtime routine. Provided the subject matter or reading level isn’t too challenging, this is a great way to make efficient use of time.
An Appropriate Bedtime
Your child’s age and individual sleep needs should be considered when determining an appropriate bedtime. Also consider how extracurricular activities and school start times align with current sleep guidelines to ensure your child is getting adequate rest. Current guidelines suggest:
children aged 3-5 years should get 10-13 hours of sleep each day;
children aged 6-12 years should get 9-12 hours of sleep each day; and
children aged 13-18 years should get 8-10 hours of sleep each day.
More importantly, take a look at your child’s behaviour, appetite and general health. If you are noticing impacts to these areas and/or you always need to wake your child in the morning, it’s likely an indicator that they aren’t getting enough sleep. Keep in mind that as children reach adolescence, their sleep patterns will naturally start to shift later. That’s because the release of melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel drowsy, is released later in the day.
Try this: Track your child’s sleep patterns, activities and behaviours for one week. Look for correlations between the amount of nighttime sleep and your child’s mood, performance and behaviour. When your child is at their best, that’s the amount of sleep they should be getting.
A Calming Bedtime Routine
As you child moves through different ages, stages and preferences in how they spend their time, you may need to adjust their bedtime routine. A good bedtime routine helps to make the transition from being awake to falling asleep. Make time to work with your child to develop a new routine, or make adjustments to their existing routine to help prepare them for sleep.
Trying to incorporate too many elements into a bedtime routine, or not enough, defeats the purpose of having a routine in the first place. Listening to soft music, colouring or guided meditation designed specifically for children are good options to consider adding into their routine. Electronic usage is not recommended in the hour before bedtime. The type of light emitted from devices can also interfere with the body’s release of melatonin, leading to delays in initiating sleep, as well as disturbances throughout the night.
Try this: Ask your child what activities make them feel calm. Use age appropriate language during your discussion. Young children may find it difficult to respond, so use age appropriate language or concepts such as the Zones of Regulation.
A Final Suggestion
Sleep issues in school aged children are common. You will need to experiment with different strategies to find the best solution. Look for support from trusted resources and opportunities to discuss solutions with other parents.