By Gina Roberts-Grey
We’ve all seen them: cranky, fussy kids, crying at the drop of a hat in the middle of the day. Chances are they’re exhausted because they didn’t get enough sleep the night before.
A lack of sleep can be especially difficult for children, making it tough for them to pay attention or concentrate in school, behave properly, remember what they’ve learned and even reduce the body’s ability to fend off the colds and flu.
Experts say healthy sleep habits should begin in early childhood and be reinforced throughout adolescence to promote your child’s well-being and overall good health.
Here’s a look at some of the things parents can do to help their children establish and practice healthy sleep habits:
Pick an early bedtime. Kids need about 11 hours of sleep each night until their 11th birthday, said Tamiko Kelly, a certified maternity and child sleep consultant in Austin, Texas. “Making sure kids are in bed between 7 to 8 p.m. each night will help ensure they are getting adequate rest.”
Establish a routine and use it for naps and bedtime. Don’t worry about an elaborate or fancy system; quick and simple is best. “Bath, books, bed is my favorite,” Kelly said.
Power down. “Turn off electronics an hour or two before bed. When your child is playing video games or watching TV an hour before bed, their brain revs up and many times they get a second wind right before bedtime,” Kelly said. “This can make it extremely hard for them to wind down and get ready for sleep.” But powering down all electronics an hour or two before bed gives kids an opportunity to unwind and relax so they are able to fall asleep with ease.
Don’t send them to bed hungry. A light snack such as a glass of milk, a piece of fruit or cereal and milk can help curb stomach grumbling that may make it tough for a child to fall asleep. But make sure they eat light: A heavy meal within an hour or two of bedtime also can interfere with sleep.
Avoid caffeine. Keep products that contain caffeine (energy drinks, iced tea, chocolates, soda, etc.) out of your child’s diet at least four hours before bedtime.
Cut out curtain calls. Use tools such as a toddler clock or rewards chart to keep kids from getting out of bed after they’ve been tucked in. A toddler clock stays blue when it’s time for sleep and changes to yellow in the morning, signaling to your little one that it’s okay to get out of bed. “A reward chart offers your child incentives for staying in bed,” Kelly said. “For example, they can earn one green sticker for each night they stay in bed and after earning five green stickers, they get a special treat.”