Stuffed animals? Check.
Their favorite blanket? Check.
A good book and a goodnight kiss? Of course.
Most parents know the little things that make getting ready for bedtime special. But there are other important things families can do to ensure a child’s bedroom is primed for slumber.
The concept is called “sleep hygiene,” and it’s defined as the practice of healthy habits and behaviors that can lead to a good night’s sleep.
Those simple steps reap big benefits. Adequate sleep leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
And because poor sleep is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, it is crucial that kids get enough shut-eye.
Setting the stage is easy. Here’s what to do:
- Provide a cool, dark space: Heavy curtains can keep out light that affects the onset of sleep. If a nightlight is needed, the National Sleep Foundation recommends red-hued bulbs (they’re less activating to the brain). Bodies cool during rest, so lower the thermostat a few degrees in the evening.
- Keep screens and phones out: Blue light from tablets, televisions and smartphones can suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Meanwhile, switch off electronic devices at least one hour before winding down, as the content itself can be overly stimulating.
- Remove distractions: Put away toys and games to avoid the temptation of getting up to play after the lights go out. Turn alarm clocks facing away so children trying to fall asleep won’t fixate on the time. Live in a noisy home or a raucous neighborhood? A low-decibel white noise machine can help cushion against exterior sounds.
- Use beds for sleeping: Beyond hosting the occasional pillow fort, a child’s bed should be used only for rest. Lying down for daytime activities such as homework or video games makes it harder for a person’s brain to associate his or her mattress as a place meant for sleep.
- Set a consistent daily bedtime: Turning in and waking up at the same times helps avoid a “sleep deficit” that can actually be worsened by rising late on weekends. Another plus: It doesn’t make the arrival of bedtime feel like a surprise, which can help prevent arguments.
- Get ready together:The moments before bed offer a chance for tranquil bonding with your little one. Beyond teeth-brushing and bath time, reinforce the value of quiet routine by talking about the school day, listening to calm music, singing a lullaby or sharing a favorite book.
Setting good habits together as a family can make help take the stress out of bedtime and set your kids up for the health benefits of a good night’s sleep.
For more information about nighttime routines, read one father’s advice for parents of toddlers.