Making a commitment to healthy sleeping habits is one of the best things you can do for your children’s overall health. Sleep has an enormous impact on their brain growth, cognitive functioning, weight, behavior, academic performance and more.
Yet many parents underestimate just how much sleep their kids need and how much quality sleep their kids are actually getting. I know I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve let my nine-year old son stay up too late, get up too early and tell me he’s not tired when I know he really is.
For the record: Preschoolers (ages 3-5) should sleep 10-13 hours. School age children (6-13) should sleep 9-11 hours. (1) Everyday. Consistently. Not just on the weekends.The best time to help your children develop and lock down excellent sleep habits is when they are young and becoming more autonomous. Here are several simple steps you can take to help your kids improve their sleep and set the on the path to lifetime good habits.
Don’t put televisions in your children’s bedrooms. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the fact is that 45 percent of school-aged kids have television sets in their rooms (2) and recent studies show that both watching TV and sleeping in a room in which a TV is present reduces the average amount of daily sleep by more than 20 minutes. (3)
Wind down by lowering the lights. Shift into “get ready for bed” mode by dimming or turning down the lights. Even better, switch to Low-Blue Nightlights as part of an evening routine. These small lights come with amber LED bulbs and glow like candles. Just plug them into a wall outlet like old-school nightlights. The good news is they don’t emit any of the blue wavelengths that are known to suppress melatonin, the hormone that encourages drowsiness and which usually reaches its highest levels in the body during the night. (4)
Take time for tea. Having a cup of herbal tea is a great way to help children change gears and slow down. Lavender, chamomile and valerian root are excellent options for kids. Consider boosting the tea with raw honey. It’s a fantastic sleep aid and helps the liver do its job at night. (5) (And be sure to stay away from processed honey — it’s often nothing more honey-flavored corn syrup.) Another option we recommend for adults, and one that kids might like as well, is adding a tablespoon of coconut oil to herbal tea as a way to provide fat to the brain for stable energy during sleep.
Read “real” books before bed. This goes for parents who are reading aloud to kids and kids who are reading to themselves. Staring into an iPad or Kindle before bed, or even exposure to the secondhand light coming off a device, disrupts a child’s circadian rhythms and inhibits melatonin production. A recent study also showed that kids who read on devices before bed take longer to fall asleep and to reach a consistent REM state.6 Not good. So go for the paper books and help your kids get the REMS they need. Plus, there’s something very soothing about actually turning pages.
Don’t let your children sleep with their devices. Cell phones are not teddy bears. A recent study showed that kids who sleep near their small devices sleep 20 minutes less each night than children who never slept near a small screen.7 Also, cell phones emit EMFs, electric and magnetic fields, or invisible areas of energy, that generate radiation.8 EMFs can have an impact on the sympathetic nervous system, disturbing sleep. There is also the larger issue of EMFs as cancer-causing agents. So make sure phones are turned off and put in a drawer, outside of the bedroom. Even a device left on a desk with its light subtly flashing can impair quality of sleep. (9)
Close the curtains. The darker the room, the better the sleep. Most fabric stores carry light blocking material that can be easily pinned to existing curtains. If your kids are scared of the dark, again consider using Low-Blue Nightlights. They’re also particularly good for kids who are light sleepers and who toss and turn. A recent study showed that people who woke up and saw this light continued producing melatonin.
Make sure your kids are getting enough magnesium. Most Americans are deficient in this important mineral, kids included. Among its many roles, magnesium helps regulate the nervous system, which has a big impact on sleep quality. Excellent sources of magnesium include dark and leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc.), pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, salmon, avocado and dark chocolate. If you are using a supplement, go with the “-ates” — malate, citrate, aspartate and others. For children between 4 and 6 years old allow 120 mg and 170 mg for children between 7 and 10 years of age. Be careful with the supplements because too much magnesium can cause diarrhea.
Set a good sleep example. The more you deal with your own sleep and make it priority, the better for your children. Your example will have an impact.
What tips are you using to help your children get quality sleep? We’d love to know what you find the most useful.
The New Honey Revolution
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Arthur S. Siegel, 1940