Are You Getting Enough Sleep? Seven Tips for Improving Shut-eye
Sleep. We all know it’s important, yet we all cut it short, regularly getting far less than the seven to nine hours recommended for adults by the National Sleep Foundation. For children, that recommendation increases to nine to 11 hours. Kids often don’t get enough rest, and when they don’t sleep, mom and dad don’t sleep, either. Lack of sleep is slippery slope for people of any age, because the body makes metabolic, hormonal, cognitive and muscular repairs during sleep, but it especially dangerous for children.
A 2017 study that tracked over 1,000 children from birth found that those who didn’t get sufficient sleep as toddlers and preschoolers had more issues with attention, emotional control and problem-solving abilities at age 7. Good sleep is linked to improved concentration and productivity, a healthy body weight, lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and depression, and improved immune function. Here are seven ways to help the whole family get enough shut-eye.
Set a Bedtime Routine
And stick to it! The brain creates an association with routines for sleep, which will help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night. Our brains don’t lose our craving for routine as we age, so as adults, we need to recreate those neuro associations. For kids, try to keep it short and give them some choices; what pajamas they wear, what book they read. It’s also a good idea to include tooth-brushing in the bedtime routine, to establish good dental hygiene habits along with good sleep habits. Establishing a wake-up time and working backwards based on sleep needs is a good way to set a bedtime, but be careful about letting kids sleep in on weekends; that practice could have negative effects in the long run.
Create a Cave
According to the National sleep foundation, your bedroom temperature should be 65 degrees to help your hormones align for optimal sleep; cortisol levels will drop, melatonin levels will increase. Keep the room as dark and quiet as possible, dress your child in breathable, cotton pajamas and don’t bundle them up too much. The neon alarm clock numbers two feet from your head? Not good. Consider blackout blinds or a sleep mask, and keep the room uncluttered, so your brain has nothing else to think about. However, kids often won’t sleep in a totally dark room, so a small night light might be helpful, but try to steer them away from sleeping with the lights on.
Avoid Afternoon Stimulants
Yes, that means giving up your beloved afternoon coffee. With a half-life of four to six hours, the caffeine you consume at lunchtime can affect your ability to fall asleep at 10 p.m. For kids, keep an eye on caffeine that hides in foods like chocolate and ice cream. And people of all ages should avoid big meals before bed; the body needs several hours to digest food and eating too close to bedtime means the body will remain active when you want it to rest.
Cut Down on the Blue Light
Three hours before bed, shut down the cell phone, laptop, tablet, and TV, because blue-light exposure stunts the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. It’s a good idea to make the bedroom a screen-free zone; the National Sleep Foundation says kids between 6 and 17 who have a least one electronic device in their bedroom sleep a full hour less on school nights. Instead, try books, puzzles, board games, or coloring books as nighttime activities. And if you can’t power down, blue-light blocking glasses mitigate some of the effects.
Keep a Journal
Got a lot on your mind? Write it down. Research shows if you park the day’s stressful thoughts on paper, they won’t keep you up at night. Once that argument you had at work, the bills you forgot to pay, the general problems of your life are written down, the brain says, “OK, this is tended to, and I can get after it tomorrow.” And while kids likely don’t need park their worries on paper, decreasing stress before bedtime will ensure cortisol levels drop to allow for proper sleep. Keep pre-bedtime activities quiet and calm.
Take a Hot Shower or Bath Before Bed
This works for babies, toddlers, teens and adults, because increasing body temperature, then decreasing it quickly by going into your cold room, helps to induce sleep; sleep usually begins when the rate of temperature change and body heat loss is at its maximum. This is why exercise right before bed is not advised, because exercise increases your body temperature and provides energy.
Try a Natural Sleep Aid
If you’re over 18, try kore sleep to help you relax, fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed. The hormone melatonin and amino acids 5-HTP, theanine and GABA support rejuvenating sleep, while herbs valerian, lemon balm and hops promote relaxation.