Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Roughly a third of our lives are spent sleeping, yet we tend to regard this part of the day as insignificant. Once thought to be the result of a dip in metabolism or mental activity, scientific study has revealed that sleep includes times of tremendous brain activity vital to restoration. A good night’s sleep boosts our immune system, decreases stress, improves memory function, clears out neurotoxins, and speeds cellular growth. Sleep deprivation leads to brain fog, impaired judgment, slowed reflexes, and increased injuries. Over the long haul, poor sleep raises the risk for major health challenges, including depression, diabetes, and poor heart health.

So how much sleep do we need? This changes throughout our life cycle. Infants typically need as much as 17 hours of sleep per day, and as children age, they need less sleep. Guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation indicate that toddlers require 11-14 hours, preschoolers and kindergartners 10-13 hours, kids in elementary and middle school 9-11 hours, and teens 8-10 hours. Adults need 7-9 hours. During a growth spurt or while overcoming illness, people need more sleep to recover. Though individual sleep needs vary, few people fall outside of these ranges.   

With the start of school, kids are getting used to going to bed on time and waking up early. For adults, this often means waking earlier as well. Ensuring that everyone is getting enough good quality sleep is essential. Adults generally appear fatigued when they lack sleep; however, signs of sleep deficiency aren’t always as obvious in kids. Rather than looking sleepy, children may appear hyperactive or have difficulty focusing. Sleep loss can cause emotional dysregulation resulting in aggression and behavioral challenges.

Sadly, many kids aren’t getting the sleep they need. Long days in school paired with extracurricular activities may not allow enough time to wind down. Late-night athletic practices may prevent kids from falling asleep at an early hour. Adolescents’ sleep cycles shift to later in the evening, while most high schools have the earliest start times of any age group.

So how do we help ourselves and our kids get the best sleep possible? Good sleep hygiene can help make the most of the hours available. Here are some tips from sleep experts:

  • Have a routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. To set a bedtime, work back from the time you need to wake up. For example, if your middle schooler needs to get up at 6:00 a.m., he or she should be in bed by around 8:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Try not to deviate by more than an hour earlier or later on weekends and holidays.
  • Avoid or limit naps for adults and children who are beyond the napping stage. Napping too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. If a nap is needed, make it no more than 20-30 minutes and at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly and early if possible. Regular exercise helps provide the physical stimulation needed to feel tired. It’s best to exercise earlier in the day and avoid rigorous activity at night. If this isn’t possible, try to allow at least an hour before bed to do something relaxing.
  • Eat dinner 3-4 hours before bedtime and keep later snacks light. Digestion can interfere with restful sleep. Eating calorie-dense, high-fat food just before bed can result in heartburn, gas, and stomach upset.
  • Limit electronics, especially at night. One to two hours of electronics per day for kids for entertainment purposes, with the devices turned off at least an hour before bed. No televisions in the child’s bedroom and other electronics should be checked in for the night.
  • Teach kids that their bed is for sleeping. Many kids will read, study, or use their phones in bed. Even when these devices are turned off and put away, this can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Forming a cognitive association between the bed and the activity of sleep will help with relaxation.
  • Create a healthy bedtime ritual. Dim the lights. Read or sit and watch the sunset. Talk about the day and share concerns. Meditate. Write down anything that is nagging or needs attention tomorrow. Take a warm bath or shower. Make sure the heat is not turned up too high, as too much heat can make it hard to fall asleep. Turn down the thermostat, ideally to the upper 60’s but at least below 75 degrees. Cooling sheets can be helpful, especially for people prone to night sweats.

All this information may seem overwhelming at first, so choose one or two things to focus on. Before you know it, everyone will be sleeping better, and that’s a win-win!