Wednesday 8 September 2021

Ad|Guest Post: Should You Enforce a Sleep Schedule for Your Kids?

This month I'm sharing some posts from Maria Miguel at Better Help, where you can find a huge FREE resource library of advice for all kinds of mental health niggles and problems. Today, it's sleep. We raised 7 children, and even though I'm one of the softest parents you might find, I have always insisted on a regular bedtime routine. It's for my own sanity at least as much as theirs... 

Child reading in bed with cosy blankets and child's duvet cover

 Should You Enforce a Sleep Schedule for Your Kids?

There are many reasons a parent may want to enforce a bedtime on their children; there are just as many reasons for families to do away with the practice. However, for certain age groups and households, a regular bedtime routine can benefit your children’s mental health, lifestyle developments, and sleep quality. Here are some benefits of creating a sleep schedule and tips to ensure it’s the right move for you and your family.

The Benefits Of A Bedtime

A Predictable Routine

Having a scheduled bedtime can be one of the first ways to introduce a regular schedule to your child. There are many variables that can affect each age group’s ability to pick up a habit; starting with something simple like a bedtime routine is an easy way to give them a repeatable task list they can cycle through and hang onto throughout their lives. While there may be slight changes to the schedule as they grow older (bedtime being pushed back, new hygiene habits, etc.), it will still hold muscle memory to signal their bodies to slowly wind down for sleep. 

Improves Sleep Quality Over Time

Getting the suggested hours of sleep at an early age improves more than just your child’s attitude and energy. Studies show that a regular sleep schedule and routine “may have a lasting positive benefit for children's sleep duration and cognitive development.” It’s especially important for young children to have language-based sleep activities like being told stories, singing, or reading; playing an active part in your child’s bedtime routine helps them connect it to a comfortable, bonding feeling. 

my two small boys aged around 3 and 4 cleaning their teeth

Improves Mental Ability

In addition to improved sleep quality, cognitive behavior is also improved because of a regular sleep schedule. At an early age, while your brain is still in development, getting enough uninterrupted rest helps improve mental health, learning capabilities, and overall cognitive behavior. While more research is needed on the correlation between sleep and development, a recent study concluded their findings highlight the potential for bedtime routines to positively affect a child’s well-being. 

Hours of Sleep Needed Per Age Group 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends various hours of sleep for different age groups, with the longest period being from 6 to 12 years old. Children under the age of 5 should not only have between 10 and 13 hours of sleep, but this should also include naps taken throughout the day. Between the ages of 6 and 12 naps are a less common requirement for children and as such it's recommended that they sleep for 9 to 12 hours. After 13 years old, teenagers should aim for about 8 to 10 hours a day until they turn 18. If your children express difficulty falling asleep or waking up, check out this article for solutions to getting out of bed: 

Preschool: 3–5 years    10–13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
School Age: 6–12 years    9–12 hours per 24 hours
Teen: 13–18 years    8–10 hours per 24 hours

*Table by How Much Sleep Do I Need

Stegosaurus toys and book children laugh

Tips for Setting and Changing Bedtimes

Build a Bedtime Routine

When it comes to developing a bedtime routine, involve your child in the process - it could be fun! As the parent, you know the list of things they should get done before bed: turning off electronics, brushing their teeth, changing into pajamas, etc. So as you give them this task list, you can leave it up to your child to decide the order they’re done in. This not only gives them some control over their own routine, but it gives them the opportunity to learn how to adjust a task list when things don’t work out. 

Adjust Accordingly

It's not possible to keep the same routine through the entirety of a kid's life. Not only will their routine needs change, but so will their autonomy. As they get older and have more responsibility and privileges, their bedtime will most likely be pushed later due to after-school activities, social activities, and changes in school time. It's important that these adjustments shouldn't be seen as a punishment or reward - instead, it's the natural progression of a necessary habit.

Lead By Example

Sleep is just as important for adults as it is for developing adolescents. While you don’t necessarily need to fall asleep at the same time, aligning your bedtime routine with theirs can encourage them to see their tasks through. Time together forms a strong bond, and it can also contribute to your own mental health to slowly disconnect from the stress and needs of the day early in the evening. Children learn from and imitate the adults they’re around the most - if you’re looking to encourage them to pick up the habit, show them how it’s done! 

my youngest son sleeping on the tram , sitting up on his knees, with his face over the back of the seat

I worked with the mattress people, Tempur, a few years ago, and wrote my own post with my tips for a better night's sleep. I also used a sleep monitor to track how different behaviour affected my own sleep, and added the results into the post (no little screens in the minutes before you close your eyes!). Jenny. 

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