No matter what age we are, we all need our sleep. Because getting enough sleep gives us energy, makes us happier and prevents us from catching whatever cold or bug is currently doing the rounds.
Being well-rested makes us more productive, increases creativity and gives us a more positive outlook on life. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can lead to us being unmotivated, irritable and impatient zombies who prefer to face the world with a grimace instead of a smile.
That’s why it’s so important to teach your kids healthy sleep habits at an early age – so they can continue being the sunny, imaginative optimists you know and love.
Here are 7 ways to create healthier sleep habits for your children:
- Create a soothing bedroom environment
If their bedroom feels like a safe haven, chances are they’ll be more willing to retreat into it come bedtime. Decorate their room with soft, relaxing colours, a cosy bedcover and their favourite stuffed animals and their bed will actually be somewhere they look forward to visiting! Keep the lighting subdued in the evenings with a bedside lamp and put toys out of view if you can; so they won’t be tempted to climb out of bed for a late-night play session!
- Establish an evening routine
A bedtime routine should extend further than a quick brush of the teeth. Because if they’re all hyperactive right until lights out, chances are they’ll take a long time to settle down. And, if their bedtime seems to change every night, you really can’t blame them for acting up…they’re just seeing how much they can get away with!
So make sure to set a realistic bedtime, and stick to it. An hour or so before this, start the wind-down. Bring them upstairs, give them a bath, change them into their pajamas and read them a story with some calming music in the background. By following these steps each night and ending with that cosy bedroom environment you’ve already created, they’ll feel safe, secure, and ready for sleep. And this sleep habit – of getting an evening routine in place – will continue serving them long into their adult life. For more tips and tricks on this routine or anything sleep-related, check out the The Sleep Advisor.
- Keep playtime indoors after dinner
By all means, do whatever activities you need to that’ll help them burn off excess energy during the daytime. But if one minute they’re jumping around on a bouncy castle and the next, supposed to be in bed…it just ain’t gonna happen! Take my advice: keep ‘em indoors after dinner if you can. Stick to quieter playtime activities, like making a scrapbook, painting and colouring or helping you bake treats. This will calm down their mind and body, getting them set up for a great sleep.
- Power off with an hour to go
Prevent bad habits – ones that you yourself might suffer from! – early on. Make sure the TV and any other screens they might be exposed to are turned off an hour before bedtime. Because devices like laptops, tablets and phones all emit blue light; which leads to our mind being overstimulated and overactive instead of sleepy and relaxed. Plus, they block the production of melatonin, which we normally rely on to calm down in the evening.
So, as part of your evening routine, power down early. Again, this habit is something they can continue to bring better sleep into adulthood.
- Teach them about the best foods for sleep
This is a fun activity you can do together…make some tasty evening treats that’ll help you sleep. Incorporate ‘sleep-promoting foods’ like kiwis, bananas, almonds and walnuts and enjoy your quality time together in the kitchen! These foods are rich in magnesium, which produces serotonin (or the ‘happy hormone’) and also in potassium, which acts as a muscle relaxant. The result? Happy, calm and satisfied kids!
- Offer a rewards scheme
Ok, so bribery might not be the best sleep habit. But it is useful for getting your kids to bed at the same time every night! Create a sticker chart, with a box for each day of the week. If they go to bed on time, and stay there until breakfast, they get a sticker. If by the end of the week they have a full row of stickers…treat time! Pancakes for breakfast, or a trip to the zoo – any little reward to acknowledge their good bedtime behaviour.
The aim of this exercise is that eventually their body clocks will tune into this rigid bedtime. And hopefully, before long, they won’t need the sticker chart to get their snooze on.
- Introduce them to meditation
Really, it’s never too early to start! Because kids today face all kinds of stress and anxiety, without us even realising it. Particularly when they reach puberty; the world becomes an unfair, chaotic and often terrifying place. By introducing them to ways of coping with these worries early on, you’re setting them up for a happier life overall, and a better sleep each night.
There are some great guided meditation exercises you can listen to together even when they’re toddlers; and, when they’re older, try teaching them a short breath awareness meditation, or a body scan. These are techniques they can fall back on whenever they’re feeling tense or stressed, including when they can’t get to sleep.
So, there you have it – 7 easy habits you can get your kids into now, so they’ll have sweeter dreams as a result!