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  • Michael Philp

Setting healthy bed-time habits

Today's fast paced society is very different from the one that most parents of young children experienced themselves as a child growing up. The constant stimuli from technology can impact on our child's ability to get a good night's sleep and feel recharged for the next day. As parents, our role is to help our children develop healthy bed-time habits that will help them feel refreshed for another day of learning, playing, and exerting energy. Developing a healthy bed-time routine also sets up your child to take the routine into adolescence and adulthood, as well as giving us parents an opportunity to wind-down from a hard day of parenting.

How much sleep does my child need?

The amount of sleep a child needs varies depending on their age. Children from age 3 to 5 need around 11 to 13 hours of sleep. Some three to four year olds may still require a day-time nap. From age 6 to 9, children require around 10-11 hours of sleep. From age 10, children need around 9-10 hours sleep.

During sleep, children will move between deep and light sleep cycles. Deep sleep occurs first, which is why children tend to end up in their parents bed in the early hours of the morning as they move into a light sleep cycle and may wake during this period. Some children wake briefly during the light sleep cycle, but are able to self-settle and fall asleep again quickly. Other children have difficulties re-settling and will call out or seek out their parents to help them fall asleep. As you can imagine, over many days or weeks this can be very tiring for both the child and the parents.

The impact of technology on sleep

We now know that the light from the screens on our devices such as mobiles, tablets and high-resolution televisions can trick our brains into thinking it is still daylight. As a result, our brain does not release an important chemical for sleep - melatonin - which can make falling asleep harder for our children, particularly if the electronic device has been used just before bed-time.

A healthy bed-time routine can help

Setting up a healthy bed-time routine can help our children get to sleep easier, get enough sleep to feel refreshed, and help learn important skills of self-settling to fall asleep. As parents, we can do this by establishing a consistent bed-time routine, as well as limiting the impact of technology and over-stimulation that affect sleep.

A bed-time routine includes:

  • A set time for bed and lights out

  • Routine such as a shower/bath, putting on pyjamas, brushing teeth, and reading a story

  • Limiting the use of screen time such as mobiles, tablets, and computers and turning devices off around 1 hour before bed

  • Having some quiet time before bed

Other healthy habits include keeping the bedroom free from technology (eg no tv/tablets/consoles/computers), and where possible setting up an area for study that is not in the child's room. This will help with the association that the bedroom is for sleeping.

Anxiety and sleep

Of course other issues can affect your child's ability to fall or stay asleep, such as stress or anxiety. Some children "overthink" or worry at night once they get into bed and there are no other distractions. These children may take a long time to fall asleep, frequently get out of bed for "one last thing", or attempt to continue to engage mum or dad in chatter. While these behaviours are normal, particularly if something stressful has occurred during the day, if they continue to happen each and every night over an extended period of time, it can have an impact on both your child and the family. If you have noticed that your child has been experiencing ongoing sleep and anxiety issues, it might be worthwhile speaking to your doctor to get a referral to a psychologist.

Useful links

The website Raising Children has some great information on children and sleep

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