Where Has All Our Sleep Gone?
By: Jay M. Greenfeld, Ph.D., C.Psych.,
We are back into the swing of things with the Fall part of our calendar taking over, yet we are still progressing through the pandemic. The pandemic has changed a lot in terms of how we socialize, how we attend school, and how we are able to involve our children in activities. However, one thing the pandemic has not had an influence over is how we choose to create healthy sleep habits. The pandemic is not able to control when we choose to go to bed and when we choose to send our children to bed, that is up to each individual household out there. It is time to reinvest in how we approach sleep because of the significant impact that it can have on our children and any care givers, teachers, and coaches who may be interacting with our children. There are significant negative effects of lacking sleep that many may be aware of, but then again most people are also aware of the negative impact of avoiding exercise, but statistics reveal what they do about those patterns.
Without gaining enough sleep, your children are at risk of increasing their tendency to procrastinate, engage in forgetful behaviour and become more inattentive or easily distracted, and more irritable. They might also have a more negative mindset and may have a harder time controlling certain impulses if they are lacking sleep that they really need. Every child is different as we know as the parents, so the total number of hours that one needs at different stages of life will change. For example, younger children need significant more than older children and then as teenagers get older they require slightly less than most younger children. Regardless of whether you have a toddler who uses bedtime to make multiple jail break type escapes to sneak downstairs, or the elementary school student who turns a flashlight on when the lights are out to read until midnight, or the teenager who says they are going to bed only to be on their phone doing everything but sleeping until 3am, whatever the case may be, our current world is promoting less sleep and more distraction limiting when our children are going to bed.
Activities are often running later, the delay in getting the children to bed then takes added time and the impact can last days. Regardless of the age of your child, for example, if they are waking up at 7:00 am for school, they need to be going to bed before 9:00 pm if they are in elementary school because they may not be falling asleep right away or staying asleep. You want to aim for at least 10-12 hours of sleep (on average) for your children and slightly on the lower end of that as they move through their teenage years. The number of hours obviously decreases for adults and many parents are surviving off of 5-6 hours per night. So, you want to give your children the chance to get the maximum number of restful hours that they can get. Younger elementary school students need to be in bed even earlier, regardless of what their older siblings may be doing. There is a lot of excitement when it comes to the nighttime because it is the chance for the family to all be together for a few moments after all the activities and homework being finished, but as parents it is crucial that you are direct, assertive, and firm with bedtime. Regardless of how eager your children may be to see a late game bottom of the ninth homerun, or a double overtime game winning goal, or need to tell you about the 20 things they forgot to tell you at any other point in the day, they need to be in bed to maximize their health the next day and the days that follow.
Without question, place limitations on what they are doing before bed, shut off all screens at least 30 minutes before they (as well as yourselves) are going to bed. If they are rushing to finish an assignment for school, make a note of changing the time management plan for them when doing homework. Ensure that they know why they need to be going to bed at a certain time, even if it is different from their sibling. The night version of themselves does not have a good relationship with the morning version so they often do not understand or see the impact from the late bed time to the early morning. Make sure they are taught and made aware of the impact on their mood, their energy, their focus, and their peer interactions. Ensure that your children know sleeping in their own bed is the only option. If they start to develop habits that they are given the green light to sleep in your bed as the parent(s) that will be harder to change, they will become dependent on that, and that may be awkward if they have a sleepover with their friends.
Try and remind your children as well as yourselves that if you only charged your phone to 40% every single day, the likelihood of it running out of battery and not working properly will be very frustrating. If you charge your phone to 100%, why not do the same for your mind, body, and soul by going to sleep? Make a commitment as a family that you will preplan as best you can to ensure everyone in the house is getting the right amount of sleep they need. Sometimes it may not be as simple as Adam Mansbachís comical message in his book, but local author Dr. Kirsten Wirth put together a practical guide for parents to help their grade school children establish better sleeping habits in her book How to get your child to go to sleep and stay asleep: A practical guide for parents to sleep train young children (2014). Most importantly, pay very close attention to your own sleeping habits. If you want to establish healthy patterns for your children to help maximize their focus when in school and participating in all of their activities, start by leading the way with them.
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