Sleep and children: practical advice

Sleep should be made a priority and the suggestions below can be implemented at home, school, and community environments to promote better sleep in children.

Physical Environment

Sleep is a biological process, but our sleep habits are socially learned behaviours that must be negotiated with our bodies’ natural rhythms. We might have a hard time changing our biology, but we can make choices that affect our surroundings. These choices can have a significant impact on how fast we fall asleep, how much we sleep and the quality of our sleep. Several important elements make up our physical environment, including the level of light, the temperature, and objects or people that arouse our senses.

At home

  • Do not have televisions or computers in bedrooms
  • Avoid exposure to artificial light late at night
  • Ensure exposure to sunlight upon waking up in the morning and during the day
  • Bedrooms should be cool and comfortable, preferably under 24 ˚C
  • Check that excessive sounds from conversations, appliances (e.g., laundry machines, dishwasher), televisions, or computers cannot be heard in bedrooms at night
  • Make sure a pet is not hindering sleep. Animals in bed or noises such as fish tank filters or cages may disrupt us from falling asleep

In school

  • The school environment should be well-lit and take into consideration changing light conditions as the seasons change

Social and Cultural Environment

Family

  • Set sleep as a priority in the household
  • Be conscious of how bedroom-sharing affects children’s sleep
  • Avoid confrontational discussions before bedtime
  • Have consistent rules around bedtime and in multi-household families
  • Try not to use bedrooms for timeouts or punishments
  • Steer clear of chores or housework at least 30 minutes before bedtime

Bedtime routine

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine throughout the year
  • A bedtime routine should have a regular start time and a consistent order of events that are increasingly relaxing.(e.g., bath, snack, teeth brushing, put pajamas on, talk with parents, read)
  • Regular meal and activity times are recommended in addition to a bedtime routine for pre-school-aged children
  • School-aged children have been shown to sleep for longer when they have a bedtime before 9 PM
  • Avoid napping close to bedtime
  • Sleep in on weekends as little as possible – sleeping late will make waking up on Monday even harder

Social life and extra-curricular activities

  • Exercise during the day, but not within one hour of bedtime
  • Do not use stimulating technology at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Extra-curricular activities should end earlier in the evening as much as possible
  • Community events should be scheduled to end at age-appropriate times

Homework

  • Set aside a daily time for homework that is not within one hour of bedtime
  • Have separate work and sleep areas (beds should be for sleeping only)
  • Schools may provide time during the school day to finish homework or assign amounts that can be done in a reasonable amount of time at night
  • Delay high school start times according to adolescents’ needs

Eating habits

  • Avoid caffeinated products at least 3-4 hours before bedtime
  • Set dinner time at least 1-2 hours before bedtime
  • Have a small, healthy snack before going to bed (e.g., milk)

School start times

  • As adolescents have a natural tendency to stay up later at night and wake up later in the morning, they may benefit from school starting later in the morning. Such delayed school start times have been shown to improve student alertness, safety, and healthy living habits.

Seek assistance

  • Most sleep problems can be helped! Seek out the aid of a pediatrician or local CSLC link if someone in your family is having difficulty sleeping at night.
  • Parents may assess how sleep-friendly their home environment is using the Sleep for Success “Home and Sleep Diagnostic Tool”

This content was developped by Reut Gruber, PhD, thanks to the support of Manulife.


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