Big changes, like starting a new school, moving to a new house or parents separating can trigger sleep struggles in even the best sleepers. Sleep deprivation can quickly accumulate, resulting in poor concentration, disruptive behavior and frequent or prolonged irritability. New research has identified that many children and adolescents, thought to have ADHD or other behavior problems, were actually chronically sleep-deprived.
How can you get your child’s sleep back on track? Pediatric sleep researchers have some tips that can help both children and parents get the sleep they need.
- Know your child’s sleep needs. Busy schedules, working parents and children’s stall tactics push bedtimes later and later. If you know your child wakes early, make bedtime early, and make it close to the same time every night.
- Have a bedtime routine. Both children and adults benefit from a bedtime routine signaling the end of the day. Keep the routine calm and relaxing and keep it the SAME – same activities, same order, and same place – every night. Children can have different routines at different houses, but each house should have a routine.
- Watch for caffeine consumption. Children often report difficulty falling asleep, but some parents don’t realize the iced tea, energy drink or soda after school is keeping them awake. Educate yourself about what does and does not have caffeine, and avoid giving your children caffeinated beverages after noon.
- Dim the lights. Darkness triggers the brain to produce melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone. Keep your children away from the TV, computer or smart phone an hour before bedtime.
- Provide security. During a parental separation, many children find it difficult to fall asleep or sleep alone. Since so much is changing in their world, the comfort of having someone near them reassures them that things will be the same in the morning. It is often helpful to let your child sleep with you or in your room until the child becomes comfortable with the changes in your family.
Don’t worry if you don’t see immediate changes. If you are able to stick with a plan, your children will adjust, and everyone will benefit.