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Sleep and children: Establishing healthy sleep habits from an early age

As a parent, establishing a healthy sleep routine for your kids from an early age can set the foundation for lifelong healthy sleep habits. It can also allow them to function at their best, both at home and in school. 

Remember that sleep is a time for restoration and for children’s bodies to recharge and retain the information learnt during the day. During deep non-REM sleep, the body’s energy is restored, growth and repair occur, and vital brain development hormones are released.

Understanding their sleep needs is the first step towards providing better sleep for your children. Through a combination of sleep hygiene, age-appropriate routines, and paying attention to any potential sleep disorders, you can help your child get the rest they need to grow up mentally and physically strong and healthy.

Here are some tips and advice for parents on how to establish healthy sleep routines for their children.

Stick to a consistent bedtime routine.

One of the most important things parents can do is establish a consistent bedtime routine for their child. A good bedtime routine can help signal to the child that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Routines can include activities such as a warm bath, brushing teeth, reading a story, or singing a lullaby. It is important to stick to the chosen routine every night to help establish a consistent sleep schedule.

Create a comfortable sleep environment.

An optimum sleep environment is essential for children to get a good night’s sleep. This includes making sure that the child’s room is cool, quiet, and dark. Investing in blackout curtains or a white noise machine, such as a fan, can help create a conducive sleep environment. Additionally, make sure that your child has a comfortable mattress and bedding that provides firm support for their growing body but is soft and comfy at the same time.

Limit screen time before bed.

Screen time before bed can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep. The blue light emitted by electronic devices can suppress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it more difficult for children to fall asleep. Therefore, it is recommended to limit screen time before bed. Ideally, electronic devices should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime.

Encourage physical activity during the day.

Engaging in sports and physical activities during the day can help children get a better night’s sleep. Encouraging your child to engage in physical activities such as playing outside, riding a bike, running or swimming can help them burn off excess energy and promote good, sleep.

Be mindful of caffeine intake.

Caffeine can be found in many foods and drinks, including soda, chocolate, and some tea and can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep. Therefore, limiting your child’s caffeine intake is important, particularly in the afternoon and evening.

Set clear sleep expectations and boundaries.

Setting clear sleep expectations and boundaries can go a long way towards helping establish healthy sleep habits for your children. These ‘bedtime rules’ can include setting regular sleeping and waking times, sticking to a bedtime routine, and establishing bedtime behaviours such as not getting out of bed or asking for extra snacks or drinks.

Keep older children’s naps early and short.

The majority of children stop napping at around 3-5 years of age. If your child over five years is still napping during the day, try shorten the nap to about 20 minutes and no later than in the early afternoon. Longer and later naps can make it difficult for children to fall asleep at night.

Make sure your child feels safe at night.

If your child is perhaps scared of the dark, then try to praise and reward them whenever they’re brave and willing to go to bed on time and without great fuss. Avoiding scary TV shows, movies, and computer games can help tremendously too. Some children with bedtime fears also feel better when they have a night light or can hear some activity within the house.

Be patient and consistent.

Of course, establishing healthy sleep habits takes time and patience. It is important to be consistent with your child’s bedtime routine and to reinforce the importance of good sleep habits. Try to be as patient and understanding as possible as your child adjusts to their new sleep routine; this will help to alleviate any anxiety or frustration as bedtime draws near.

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