As we adjust to the time change and the loss of the luxury of evening light, it’s a helpful time to think about sleep and the long-term investment in teaching children how to sleep well.
The phrase “I didn’t get enough sleep” is ubiquitous and accepted as normal among adults in our culture, and we are acculturated to the idea that part of being productive is being able to sleep less. How does this affect young people? There is increasing national concern that older children and adolescents in our over-stimulated society don’t get enough sleep. Shorter sleep can affect cognitive performance and emotional and mental health.
Getting children to sleep is often a preoccupation for parents of babies and young children, as adults grapple with their own tiredness and whether children should be allowed in their bed. American parents, distinct from most families around the world, where co-sleeping is more often the norm, tend to see children sleeping alone as part of their independence training.
However, there is no evidence that keeping children out of the parental bed creates more self-reliant young adults as they get older. Many successful adults spent time in their parents’ bed. What really matters is the connection between parent and child and the attitudes children develop toward sleep.
Imagine your child as a high school or college student. What are your hopes for them related to getting enough rest? Here are some helpful attitudes about sleep and tools to get enough rest.
“I take time to relax thoroughly before I sleep.”
Learning to relax before sleep can be life-changing. Why not help practice the military secret to fast falling sleep. Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and relax your facial muscles, starting with the forehead and moving down until all the muscles in your face are relaxed. Then continue slowly down your body. Any kind of systematic body relaxation prepares children for peaceful, deep sleep, and there are many children’s books with delightful characters who model how to relax each body party.
“My bed is a place of comfort and nurturance, not socializing or work.”
It’s helpful for children to learn sleep hygiene early, which includes habits like not doing homework or playing video games on your bed. We sleep best when beds are used only for rest.
“I know my sleep issues and pay attention to getting enough rest.”
We have names for different sleep temperaments—the early riser, the night owl—but there are many other nuances to the subject, and some are treatable sleep disturbances. Additional stress can cause night waking or trouble falling asleep. Children with special needs often have more sensitive sleep patterns, and conditions like sleep apnea can be treated successfully.
As children grow, we want them to understand the value of good sleep and the best ways for them to achieve it, whether they are away from us overnight now or later when they may be living in a dorm. Prioritizing getting enough sleep is something whole families can work on together.