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How to help your children get enough sleep, especially during the Covid pandemic



Think about the work our brains do all day – thinking, feeling, making decisions and worrying about our family, our friends and even our own safety. Sleep is the one time our brain rests.

To get enough of that rest, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 10 to 13 hours of night sleep for children ages 3 to 5 years; 9 to 12 hours for children ages 6 to 12; and 8 to 10 hours for teens. However, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 4 out of 10 middle schools and 3 out of 10 high school students get enough sleep.

The lack of adequate sleep does not come without steep costs. Inadequate sleep can cause problems in the short and long term, including not only impaired cognition, irritability and lack of patience, but also diabetes and heart disease, studies have shown.

Much of our emotional health is also linked to sleep, and sleep deprivation can create a downward spiral: Mood or anxiety problems can worsen sleep, and sleep deprivation worsens mood or anxiety. Our best option is to break the cycle as soon as we can.

I know it̵

7;s easier said than done, especially with homework, hormones and college pressure threatening children and teens – not to mention their social life, or lack thereof right now. Implementing good sleep hygiene as a family is the key – for both parents and children.

Start with a regular bedtime routine

Distance learning, work from home, lack of childcare and financial difficulties are some of the reasons why our routines look different these days. A good routine for bedtime is one of the most critical parts of sleep hygiene.
A regular night routine - also on weekends - is the key to establishing good sleep hygiene.
The more consistent the routine for bedtime, the more the body’s clocks keep on course, and the more their brain begins to associate the routine with becoming sleepy. Having a steady internal clock also helps regulate mood, which in turn improves sleep.

This means trying to keep the weekend’s sleep and wake routines as close to weekdays as possible. This is difficult, especially for teenagers whose body clocks naturally shift later in a way that does not always coincide with the school day. But the more even the routine on the weekends, the easier it becomes to fall asleep and wake up on weekdays, when it is usually the toughest.

Begins to swing down at least an hour before bedtime

Do relaxing, relaxing activities at least an hour before bedtime that keep you away from the screens. Try reading together, making puzzles or even telling stories to younger children. Older children can try journaling or create a ritual for bedtime such as writing down things they are grateful for from the day. These activities usually stop our minds from running in different directions from the day.

Keep the screens out of the bedtime routine – and the bedroom

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The blue light that screens emit can tell your brain that it’s time to be awake – the exact opposite of what we want before you go to bed. Not only should children stop using the phones or screens an hour or so before bedtime, it is best to keep them out of the room to reduce the temptation to use them, but also to reduce the emitted light that prevents the room from getting completely dark. . That means laptops, tablets, gaming systems and, yes, cell phones.

In my experience, while putting away phones can be a disappointment at first, many older children find that they feel liberated, more attentive and get much better sleep when their phones are left in buckets on the dining table and they do not pick them up until after breakfast.

Create an environment that contributes to sleep

In addition to eliminating devices, setting up the room just right can play a big role in the quality of sleep you get. You want it to be cozy, inviting and safe. Try to keep your child’s favorite pet, toys or symbol of something soothing closer to the edge of the bed. The room should be as dark as possible (blackout curtains work) and the temperature on the cooler side.

Try not to eat or drink an hour before bedtime

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Your body does a lot of work to digest food, extract all the nutrients and turn these nutrients into energy. You want to prevent the process from happening late at night, because not only certain foods, such as sugar, can give you an outburst of energy just before bedtime – if you have not waited long to sleep, it can be a recipe for reflux and discomfort. in the stomach.

For the elderly in the household, avoid caffeine as much as you can, and not just before bedtime. Caffeine at any time of the day, even late in the morning, can affect your sleep. If you want better quality, deeper sleep, cut tea, coffee or caffeinated soda from the day.

Try meditation for sleep while you are in bed

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If your child is awake in bed, try meditating. It can reduce stress and increase chemicals that make you feel relaxed and sleepy. One that is easy to do is a body scan.

When your eyes are closed and your body is still still, start with the top of your forehead and move down, relaxing every muscle in your face. Keep moving downward through your body to focus on different body parts, relaxing your muscles as you “scan” that area of ​​your mind. Many children I have worked with tell me that they barely reach their arms before falling asleep.

Keep the bed only for sleep

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It is also helpful for children to stay out of bed for non-sleeping activities, including homework or even listening to music while texting their friends. You want your brain to connect the bed to sleep, and that physical separation can help.

If meditation, counting or other activities do not work and your child cannot fall asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, they should get out of bed and try a relaxing activity until they feel sleepy enough to try to sleep again. This helps your brain continue to connect the bed to being sleepy, not awake.

Model good sleep hygiene for your children

As with most parenting, what you preach does not just reinforce the message, it shows your children what to do. By implementing the same techniques that you expect from them, it becomes a family activity. Choose some nightly rituals as a family, such as screen-free reading time after dinner, or play a guided meditation and follow it together.

Look for signs that your child is struggling

If your child has not slept recently and is having difficulty in other areas as well, such as low appetite, problems with motivation or a withdrawn or irritated mood – it may be time to see a pediatrician, therapist or psychiatrist to see if anything else is going on, such as depression or anxiety.

The brain is one of our most precious assets, and as with all precious assets, there are ways to take care of it and nurture it so that it can do its job best. And it all begins – and ends – with sleep.

For more tips for achieving restful sleep, sign up for CNN’s newsletter series Sleep, but Better.

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