Is your child sleeping enough?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that 6-12 year old children get 9-12 hours of sleep each night. For preschool kids, this goes up to 10-13 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period. But how many of our children are actually getting even close to that amount?
Studies show that getting enough sleep at night impacts mood and helps our children focus, learn and grow. Yet many find this to be an ongoing struggle. For children with autism or ADHD, sleep struggles are particularly prevalent. As many as 80% of kids with autism reportedly experience trouble sleeping.
Strategies for Healthy Sleep Habits
Achieving healthy sleep habits is critical. Our OTs compiled a list of strategies that work for many people. Remember, changing your child’s sleep patterns will take time.
Record, record, record
Putting down your child’s sleep schedule (as it is now) enables you to take a close look at their routine and notice any patterns. Were there any activities that may have impacted their sleep? Something as simple as a 20-minute nap on the bus ride home from school could foil plans for an early bedtime.
Monitor nutrient intake
Take note of any caffeine, sugar, and oral medication that your child has. These could be the culprit of nighttime struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep. If medication is the issue, speak with your child’s doctor about possible adjustments.
Establish a routine
Kids thrive on predictability. The two-hour period before bed should look more or less the same every day, and the time immediately before bedtime should be nearly identical. Consider creating a visual schedule to outline your child’s bedtime routine. This will allow your child to see the consistent and predictable schedule and help them adapt to it.
Timing is key
Staying consistent with wake/sleep times is also an important part of the routine. Developing healthy sleep habits is not just about the hours of sleep that kids get. It’s also about the timing when sleep happens.
Our bodies use light as an indicator of day and darkness as a cue for the night. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is produced when our body detects that it’s nighttime. The light emitted by screens tricks our bodies into thinking it’s still daytime, inhibiting melatonin production. Try to dim the lights and stay off screens as you begin to wind down for your child’s bedtime to give their body the cue that it’s time to go to sleep.
Make sure that your child is getting plenty of movement during the day. Staying active helps use up kids’ energy and tire out their bodies by the end of the day, encouraging them to sleep better. This is especially challenging in the winter when the days are short and spent mostly indoors. Think about ways to incorporate movement while indoors. A Hopper Ball or Squeaky Spots are great for indoor play.
Incorporate calming activities
Fill the time before bed with calming sensory activities. These can include relaxing with a Calm Down Jar and a weighted blanket. For kids who need plenty of deep pressure input, try some heavy work activities. Have them push the laundry basket down the hallway or wheelbarrow walk to their bedroom. Warm baths and massaging with lotion can also be calming activities for kids.
Talk about it
A child’s stresses might seem small to us, but for kids, they are huge concerns! Take the time to talk through any stressful events that happened that day and discuss a plan for the future, if relevant. Giving your child the space to voice their worries can prevent a night of tossing and turning.
This post was originally posted on 04/13/2021. It was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on 03/02/2022.