SLEEP HYGIENE: HEALTHY HABITS FOR BETTER SLEEP
Sleep hygiene refers to a set of healthy sleeping habits that enables children and adolescents (and adults!) to fall asleep more quickly and can enhance sleep duration and quality. If you or your child suffers from poor sleep, you may have noticed that irritability, lack of concentration and low mood can be side-effects. In fact, research shows that not getting enough sleep can affect mood, academic performance, and physical health. Common sleep issues include difficulty falling asleep, frequent night wakings, and waking up too early.
Consistency and routine are key in establishing sleep hygiene. Here are recommendations to help your child get better sleep:
- Consistent bedtime: Our bodies respond better if bedtime and wake up times are always within the same 30-minute window.
- Get plenty of exercise during the day. Many kids and teens do not get sufficient regular physical activity. Make sure your child is physically active (getting out of breath) at least 15 minutes per day. Stuck inside because of the weather? Make an effort to close the TV/phones and get moving. Race inside your home, practice cartwheels and handstands, go walk in a mall, etc.
- Spend time outside. Sun exposure is key in regulating our internal body clock. It’s snowing or cloudy? Not a problem, if you can see outside, there are still sun rays passing through.
- Bedtime should be boring! Develop a relaxing bedtime routine that is consistent and will trigger your child’s body into sleep. This can include soft music, reading, quiet play, or relaxing sensory activities.
- Never underestimate the sleeping environment. It must be dark! You can leave one (very dim) night light, otherwise remove any other source of light (electronics or alarm clocks) in your child’s room. Invest in blackout curtains.
- Night wakings. If your child/teen is unable to fall asleep at bedtime or during the night for more than 45 minutes, encourage them to get up stretch or do something boring until you feel sufficiently sleepy. No electronics! Lights should remain dimmed.
- Relaxation techniques. Learn and practice together relaxing strategies to help reduce tension before sleep, such as meditation, mindfulness exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. My favorite is the happy place visualization technique.
- Address mental health issues. Anxiety and depression are known to interfere with sleep, make sure these are being addressed in psychotherapy.
Things to avoid:
- Caffeine in the afternoon or later. Be aware that caffeine is present in coffee and tea but also in sodas and chocolate (and most Starbucks drinks!).
- Sending your child to bed with a full stomach or full bladder. Digestion and having to use the washroom can disrupt your child’s sleep. Be aware that late night snacking might be a cue that the body is tired rather than hungry.
- High intensity exercise or hot baths right before bed. Research shows that the body temperature must be cool to feel comfortable falling asleep. However, light exercise and a warm shower or bath right can help some individuals relax. Experiment with what works best for your child.
- Electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. This includes the computer, tablet, phone, and TV. If listening to music, make sure not to look at the screen. Make sure electronics are turned off so notifications are not going off during the night.
- Checking the time as this may create more anxiety. Make sure your teen’s alarm clock face is turned away so that they are not constantly checking the time. Sleep trackers should also be used with caution. For some individuals, it can create more anxiety knowing they didn’t spend sufficient time in deep sleep. Focusing on ”feeling refreshed” might be a better metric.
Of note, if your child continues to have difficulty with sleep despite implementing the above suggestions, you should talk to your family doctor to rule-out medical issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Your family doctor can also recommend supplements to help with sleep (like melatonin or magnesium) if needed.
Resources to explore:
About the Program | Better Nights, Better Days| An online program developed by a team of sleep experts across Canada (betternightsbetterdays.ca)
Dr. Stephanie Leon
Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties.
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