Effective sleep routine for your growing child

Written by Dr. Mona Gujral
Published: July 25, 2022
Dr.Mona Gujral is a certified parenting coach with a background in psychology. She is the author of the best selling book-'Raising a Mindful Parent', a speaker on Mindful Parenting, and comes with over 5 years of experience.

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Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy & wise.”

This rhyme which we all have learned as a child is somehow dismissed as just that, a nursery rhyme, and the deep wisdom behind it to form the best bedtime for kids is all lost.   

These days more than 80% of adolescents and teenagers get far less than 8 hours of sleep that is recommended for them. The combination of biological changes, increasing academic demands, extracurricular activities, and social life leaves very little time for sleep in a teenager’s schedule. Most teens and adolescents also believe that sleep is just a waste of time. 

But alas! Sleep is the most important, outwardly passive activity that happens in our bodies. 

Why Is Sleep Important?

  1. Sleep, especially deep sleep is like a balm for the brain. During sleep, the brain is busy processing all the information that was gathered in a day. So, whatever the child studied in school is stored in their memory for future recall during sleep. And you guessed it right, that if the child sleeps less, they can have poor memory and difficulty in learning and concentrating on things. 
  2. Sleep is believed to help regulate emotions, as lack of sleep can make the child cranky, moody, stressed, and in extreme cases depressed. Therefore, note that the lack of sleep can also be a reason for all those teen tantrums.
  3. Teens and adolescents who have insufficient sleep are seen to make bad choices, as a lack of sleep messes up your brain and thus affects the decision-making process. These children also have a tendency of getting into high-risk behaviours.
  4. It is also during sleep that many important hormones are released in our body, like the growth hormone, and the happiness hormone. The immunity is increased and a lot of other repair work in the body is done. 
  5. Lack of sleep can have effects on their appetite, and metabolic rate, usually slowing it down, and weight issues. So, no amount of exercising and dieting will help your child if they wish to be slim without enough sleep.

It is very clear that the amount of sleep influences the physical, mental, emotional, and social development of the child, during a very crucial phase of their life, the teen and adolescent years. This is a time during which most of the personality of the child is being formed and the foundation for the future is being laid, so giving their sleep the required attention is a must.

One complaint that most parents have these days is: that their child is awake till late in the night, and then they like to sleep till late afternoon. The parents feel frustrated in trying to get their child to form the best bedtime for kids routine, and they blame the late-night chats with their friends, social media, or the phone for this.

It is very important that parents understand the reason why teens and adolescents sleep late. The body has a sleep-wake cycle that controls sleep, and somewhere during the preteens and early teen years, the adolescent body goes through a fundamental shift in this sleep-wake cycle resulting in delayed sleep. As a result, the child who used to sleep at around 8 pm is now suddenly wide awake till 11 pm. This is a natural part of adolescence and should not be confused with insomnia. What is needed is that the parents understand this problem themselves and also make the child aware of it. So that you both can find a workable solution and form some best bedtime for kids routine which will help improve the sleep, rather than fighting about the problem.

How Can Parents Help? 

Now that we have an idea of why sleep is important and why teens and adolescents evade sleep, let us see what parents can do to help in the situation.

The first step to educate the children is to role model that sleep is as important as food and water. Second, explain what constitutes the best bedtime for kids’ habits and reshape any negative beliefs and thoughts they have about sleep.

Growing children and growing teens benefit a lot if they have some kind of routine or habit in their life. A routine helps the children relieve stress and tension. And when they follow an ideal bedtime routine consistently, every day, at the same time, it helps the body to know when to release the sleep hormones. 

This routine of best bedtime for kids could look something like this, represented by the funny acronym EAT RAT

E is for early dinner. It is important to have dinner early, as having a meal close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Your digestive system will be functioning while you are sleeping, which can affect your REM or deep sleep, causing restlessness or sleeplessness.  

A is for any activity. Once the children have an early dinner, they have ample time to finish their homework, study, or have screen time. If throughout the day they did not have any leisure activity, this is the time, as it will relax them and keep stress away.

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T is for taking away the screens. It is important to stop the use of screens at least one hour before sleep time. 

There are a lot of scientific studies which show that the blue light emitted by all the devices hampers sleep. Our bodies produce the hormone melatonin at night which helps us to have a deep, rejuvenating sleep. This hormone needs darkness to be released efficiently, and the blue light being emitted from the screens reduces the level of melatonin produced in the blood and thus hampers sleep. So, it is very vital that the parents ensure that the screens are turned off at least an hour before bedtime. 

It will be easier for the parents to manage if the phones and i-pads are kept out of the room, as frequent notifications on these devices can be a big distraction to sleep. 

R is ready for bed. Brushing the teeth at night and flossing is something that children should be doing every day as a part of their bedtime routine. It helps in having good oral hygiene and also keeps the cavities away. It is also a good idea if the children can have a shower to help them relax and sleep better.

A is for: account your day. It is a good habit to write down the main highlights of the day whether good or bad, in a journal. This will help release any thought that is stuck in their mind and bothering them because it is hard to fall asleep with your mind chatting away. If they feel like it, they can also talk to their parents about it and get relaxed. This can be the start of the journaling habit, which is a very good habit to inculcate in children.

T is for time it. It is very important to keep the time of sleep the same every day, although a little variation is acceptable, mostly it should be the same. This way the internal clock of our bodies is in rhythm, and it knows when it must release the sleep hormone.

Apart from the above best bedtime for kids’ habits, there are a few more things that can help ensure better sleep.

  1. 1.  Having a dark room and a comfortable bed will help the sleep.
    2. Avoiding stimulants like coffee, and colas at least four hours before bed help in better sleep. These are the substances used to avoid sleep, so if had very near to sleep time, they will prevent sleep as they block the sleep-inducing hormone. So having caffeine should be avoided before bedtime hours for kids.It will be very helpful that the parents form these rituals of best bedtime for kids, with their children in case there is no such ritual in place. Do this with your child for a minimum of 21 days, so that a healthy sleep habit is formed in them for life. This will allow them to not only get the required sleep but also, they can wake up more energetic and refreshed each morning and work towards their glorious future with zeal.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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