ACCORDING to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR) at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), children and teenagers need at least nine hours of sleep each night on a regular basis for their health, safety and best performance in school and other activities.
Getting an adequate amount of nighttime sleep is just as important as healthy eating and exercise for children’s development. Children who don’t get enough sleep exhibit difficulties with attention, are easily frustrated, and have difficulty controlling their emotions.
Below are some simple tips offered by NHLBI that parents can use to help their children get a good night’s sleep:
1. Establish a regular bedtime and stick to it. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will program your child’s body to sleep better and will reinforce his or her biological clock. This makes it easier for him or her to fall asleep quickly and awake feeling fully rested and alert.
2. Eliminate distractions in your child's room. If there's a television or computer in your child’s bedroom, find another place where kids can use them. A bedroom should only be used as a place for rest and relaxation.
3. Avoid feeding your child a big meal too close to bedtime. A heavy meal close to bedtime can keep a child awake at night.
4. Avoid sodas and other beverages with caffeine. Consuming anything with caffeine less than six hours before bedtime can interfere with your child getting a good night's sleep. Give him or her a hot milky drink or herbal tea instead.
5. Build in quiet time before bedtime. Many children want to go outside to play with their friends after dinner. You can allow this, but make sure they come back inside with enough time to allow them to relax before bedtime. You can also build in some relaxing after-dinner playtime. Too much activity close to bedtime can keep children awake.
6. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Try to have your child relax before going to bed. Have him or her take a warm bath, listen to some quiet music, or read a book. All of these activities help relax both the mind and body. Try different routines; find out what works best, and stick to it.
7. Make sure the room is dark and quiet. Use a nightlight if your child finds the dark scary.
8. Make sure your child’s bed is comfortable. It's difficult to get restful sleep on one that's too soft, too hard, too small or too old. Don't give children or teenagers hand-me-down bedding. A good rule of thumb: If the bed's no longer good for its first user, it's not good enough for a teenager or a child either.
9. Maintain a comfortable room temperature. Create a restful sleeping environment. The bedroom should be for rest and sleep, and it should be neither too hot, nor too cold; and as quiet and dark as possible.
By following the steps outlined above, parents will help their children establish getting a good night’s sleep as a lifelong habit, and ensure that their children get the sleep they require to be well rested, alert and ready to learn.
Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 22 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner[at]yahoo.com with your questions or comments.