Sleep is pretty important. I don’t think I need to belabor this point because any parent I’ve ever spoken with seems to have a deep appreciation for how lack of sleep impacts their children (and themselves!). That being said, I will give a quick “cheat sheet” so everyone can brush up on just how many hours of zzz’s is recommended based on age. In February of 2015, the National Sleep Foundation shared an updated set of guidelines for sleep, which is outlined below:
· Newborns (through 3 months of age) 14-17 hours (lucky babies!)
· Older infants (through 11 months) 12-15 hours
· Toddlers (1-2 years) 11-14 hours
· Preschoolers (3-5 years) 10-13 hours
· School age children (6-13 years) 9-11 hours
· Teenagers (14-17 years) 8-10 hours
· Ages 18+ 7-9 hours
Obviously, nothing is written in stone. However, I think it’s important to look at these numbers in print to see how close your kids are to the suggested ranges. If they are pretty close and generally doing well, I’m not sure you need to turn your house upside down to gain an extra 10-15 minutes per day. But, if there is a gap of an hour or more, it definitely makes sense to create a plan for more pillow time. At the very least, with new school schedules and routines, doing a quick calculation to see what “bedtimes” and alarm clock settings will keep your kids in the suggested range is worthwhile.
If you do find that your children may be in need of more rest, pace yourself. Instead of setting the expectation that bedtime will now move from 9:45 to 8:30, start with a 15-minute shift. Establish that for a week or so and then make another 15-minute adjustment. Continue with that cycle until the desired number of hours per night is achieved. If you are working on the other end of the sleep-wake cycle and are trying to urge your little ones to stay asleep for longer in the morning, ensure that you have shades to block out early daylight and make efforts to adjust household routines that may be rousing early birds before they are really ready to jump into their day.
Another thing to keep in mind is limiting electronics/screens before bed. From all that I have read, giving the brain at least one full hour to recover after screen time can assist with sleep. I am a fan of a bigger break if possible…but I also understand the practicality of older students sometimes needing to use their computers to finish schoolwork. So, aim for an hour of screen-free time before bed and consider more a bonus.
I also find that most families benefit from a central location for all phones, iPads, iWhatevers (please excuse my lack of proficiency with all tech devices! Fell free to insert whatever products might be lighting up your house in the evening). This way, at a certain time everyone knows they park their devices there for the night and reclaim them the next day. If parents can play by the same rules, it is a huge score for the entire family. Even as our children grow up they always have their eyes on us and we are constantly in a position to set an example. Also, please (pretty please!) do not allow your kids to get in the habit of using their phones as alarm clocks. The temptation to text, surf, chat is often too alluring to resist and a good old alarm clock is an inexpensive way to promote healthy sleep routines.
The last thing I will mention here has to do with the way families view sleep. I remember feeling like bedtime was some sort of punishment when I was growing up. There were even rumblings of having to go to be early as a consequence for some slip-ups. As parents, I think we have a responsibility to help our children understand the value of sleep and to communicate with them in a way that shows we feel it is important. Going to bed is not a punishment; it’s a way to take care of our bodies and minds and to recharge for another day.
So, a quick summary: Make sleep a priority, create comfy sleep spaces, arm your kids with an old fashioned alarm clock, aim for the “sweet spot” in terms of hours per night and adjust in 15-minute increments until you are as close as possible, step away from all screens at least an hour before hitting the pillow, and talk up the value of sleep whenever you can. Here’s to a good night’s sleep for everyone!
Sharing practical strategies that help parents rediscover joy in their children (even when someone's crying, the phone is ringing, and it smells like the house may be burning down)