If you haven’t heard already, Friday 16th of March is World Sleep Day. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our lives. When we have good sleep, good nutrition and regular exercise we set ourselves up for good health. Good quality sleep includes making sure we sleep at the right times, for a decent duration and our sleep is consolidated.
The lack of appropriate sleep can impact many different aspects of our lives:
- Increase the risk of depression.
- General mood changes.
- Clumsiness/being accident-prone.
- Affects our ability to pay attention and our memory recall.
- Affects our ability to learn well.
- Can lead to poor school performance and ability to function at work.
- Can increase weight gain.
Not only does sleep affect our wellbeing, it also serves some very important functions:
- A growth hormone is secreted when children and babies sleep.
- Sleep helps with memory consolidation, learning and attention span.
- Sleep keeps our minds alert.
- Improves our social interactions and mood regulation.
- Helps fight illness.
Knowing how important sleep is for us and or children is one step in the right direction towards healthy sleep, but understanding the foundations of healthy sleep can help us ensure that our kids are getting the sleep they need to thrive, grow and be the healthy, happy little people we want them to be.
Let’s walk through the 5 key foundations of healthy sleep.
Consistent age appropriate bedtimes, naptimes and wake times.
Our biological sleep rhythms (circadian rhythms) influence when we need to sleep. It is important to respect our little one’s sleep rhythms to ensure they get good quality sleep. After a baby has grown out of the newborn phase they benefit from a bedtime between 6 to 8 pm. This time span for bedtime tends to be appropriate for a child up to approximately 8 years of age. For babies and toddlers their bedtime is always based on the quality of their daytime naps and their activity level throughout the day. This means their bedtime can be somewhat of a moving target. For a child over about 4 years of age a consistent bedtime that happens at the same time every day (whether it is a weekday or weekend) is important.
Napping at an appropriate time is also important. Babies (post newborn phase) and toddlers have times on the clock when their bodies are primed and ready for sleep. Sleeping at these times ensures that they fall asleep easily, sleep well and for a nice long nap. When they sleep outside of these times they wake feeling less rested.
A bedtime routine.
I mention this a lot in my blog posts and articles, but I really can’t emphasize this enough. A bedtime routine is incredibly important. This routine should be consistent every night. Choose a routine that is achievable for your family to do in the same way and same order every day. This routine should not have you moving all over the house but leading you in the direction of your children’s bedroom. This routine is important because it acts as a cue that sleep time is near and helps your children wind down ready for sleep.
Encourage independent sleep skills.
Babies and children need to be able to put themselves to sleep at the beginning of bedtime/naptime, and at any awakenings, to sleep well. When they need help from their parents to fall asleep this affects their ability to return to sleep at normal brief awakenings (that we all have). Instead of rolling over or repositioning a baby or child will wake up further crying out or when older getting out of bed seeking their parents assistance to get back to sleep. This causes what we call sleep fragmentation and means that they are not getting good consolidated night sleep. It doesn’t matter if they are in bed for 12 hours a night if they are not constantly sleeping the whole night. They won’t wake feeling as well rested as they should.
Use sunlight at the right times.
Sunlight is important for our circadian rhythms but we have to make use of it in the right way. Getting out and about in the morning sun is incredibly important for our children and babies but having light filtering into windows at night can disrupt their ability to fall and stay asleep. Blackout blinds can help with this, especially in the summer months when it gets dark later and brighter in the mornings. Often if there is light stealing into a room in the early morning hours it can make us wake up earlier than our body really needs too.
A bedroom environment conducive to sleep.
Along with those black out blinds I mentioned above, a bedroom environment that is calm and relaxing and made for sleep is incredibly important. For older children and adults, we should keep technology of any sort completely out of the bedroom. I even suggest no TV or electronics an hour before bedtime as it can affect the ability to sleep well.
For babies, children and adults, beds should really only be for sleep (and maybe one other thing for adults……). Sound machines are also useful as well as they can help block out intermittent noises like noisy siblings, street noises and the television in the lounge room.
If we follow these 5 key foundations to healthy sleep we are doing our best to promote great sleep in our babies and toddlers. If you need help working on the foundations for healthy sleep, please do not hesitate to reach out to me and we can chat further about them.