Pediatrics | Published June 23, 2020

Healthy sleep habits

Summer is here, and with it more daylight hours, making it easy to take a relaxed attitude towards sleep habits and bedtime routines. While kids don't usually want to sleep before it's dark outside, maintaining a consistent routine plays an important role in helping kids get the sleep they need. Children thrive on a regular bedtime routine. Lack of sleep can lead to challenging behaviors and health problems such as irritability, difficulty in concentrating, hypertension, obesity, headaches and depression. Studies continue to show that children who get enough sleep have healthier immune systems and better behavior, memory and mental health. Here are guidelines to help children develop good sleep habits. 

Create and keep a regular daily routine. This includes keeping routine waking, nap and meal times, as well as,playtime. Routines help children feel secure and comfortable and will create smoother bedtimes. Bedtime routines can be as simple as brush, book and bed, which means the routine can be used anywhere, helping your child sleep wherever you may be. Don't forget that teens require more sleep, not less, as you adapt nighttime routines as children age. 

Make sleep a family priority. Lack of sleep impacts both adults and children, taking a toll on mental functioning and increasing the risk for health problems. It can be tempting to believe you and your children can get by reasonably well with a few skipped hours here and there. Modelling how you value sleep will set an important example that getting enough sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle like eating well and exercising. 

Monitor screen time. The relationship between screen time and sleep is complicated. Research shows those who have high amounts of screen time tend to go to bed later, take longer to fall asleep, and sleep fewer hours than those with less screen exposure. To prevent sleep disruption, turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime.

Create the right sleep conditions. Keep your child's bed a place to sleep and not play by avoiding using the bed as a place to store toys. A special comfort item or two such as a doll or blanket is okay and can help ease anxiety. Dim the lights and, if needed, use a soft nightlight to help set the mood for sleep. Also consider lowering the temperature at night, as colder temperatures are known to improve sleep. 

Be active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that preschool-aged children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be physically active throughout the day for growth and development. School-aged children and adolescents (ages 6 through 17 years) should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day. Fresh air and exercise will help exhaust children and youth making them look forward to bedtime and restorative sleep. 

Ensure downtime. Taking time each night for children to wind down and relax from the day will help ease the transition from an active day to a bedtime routine. 

Recognize sleep problems. Common sleep problems in children include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, sleep apnea, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. Discuss your child's sleep habits and problems with your pediatrician.  Most sleep problems are easily treated. Your pediatrician may ask you to keep a sleep log or have additional suggestions for improving your child's sleep habits.