Worried About Getting Enough Sleep? 6 Tips for the Whole Family
Over the course of their lifetime, the average person will spend about 229,961 hours—or a third of their existence—asleep. Sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining both physical and mental health, and is closely tied to behavior, performance, and—perhaps most importantly right now—immune system strength. Yet most people struggle to get the recommended eight hours a day they need: in America, 70% of adults report that they obtain insufficient sleep at least one night a month, with 11% reporting trouble sleeping every single night.
According to the CDC, “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic” in this country—anxiety and stress can lead to insomnia. But with help from the doctors at ProHealth Physicians, you don’t have to be just another statistic. Here are six ways to help to make sure your whole family is able to get the rest they need:
1. Start early.
Good habits start early—but when it comes to midnight feeds and early-morning diaper changes, so can a negative relationship around sleep for both parent and child. An expecting mom’s sleep schedule will be threatened by frequent bathroom trips back pain and restless legs. Once the baby is born there is a whole new set of sleep challenges. Infants typically don’t regulate their sleep cycle until they are around six months old. But getting a good night’s sleep is critical to keeping mom and baby healthy both during and after pregnancy.
When new parents are (inevitably) awakened by fussing, doctors also advise waiting a few minutes before rushing to respond, giving the baby an opportunity to fall back to sleep on their own. Parents can further promote healthy sleep habits by putting kids to bed when they’re drowsy but not already asleep. Babies should be swaddled and always placed on their back in a crib without any loose blankets or toys. Co-sleeping is not recommended for either party but by keeping the baby in a basinet next to the bed can make those middle of the night feedings a little easier.
2. Keep kids on a routine.
Staying on a regular schedule is only one part of the most important factor in helping both parents and kids develop a healthy relationship with sleep: a nighttime routine. While this type of consistency is beneficial for all ages, it’s especially important for young children: a bedtime routine has even been identified as a predictor of healthy development outcomes by age four. It’s more than just aiming for the same bedtime each night; it includes establishing rituals around getting ready for bed, such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, or story time. For kids, doctors also recommend offering the child a “transition object,” usually a blanket or stuffed animal that the child sleeps with, to indicate bedtime is approaching. Bedtime rituals not only set you up for easier (and quicker) tuck-ins but also help maintain an additional sense of security once your child is asleep—reducing the chance of marathon water requests or late-night visits.
3. Know what kids (and you) need.
Every parent knows a child’s sleep schedule changes as they grow, develop, and join more extracurricular activities. But how much do you really know about what doctors recommend for which ages? Doctors advise newborns should be sleeping 16 to 17 hours each day, with infants 4 to 12 months requiring slightly less at 12 to 16 hours, including naps. Children between 1 and 2 years old should be getting around 11 to 14 hours each night, with children aged 3 to 5 needing 10 to 13 hours and children aged 6 to 12 needing between 9 and 12 hours. And despite that we might see teenagers as bottomless pits of youthful energy, they actually need more sleep than adults: doctors recommend between 8 and 10 hours for ages 13 to 18. Keeping these target numbers in mind can help parents ensure the whole family is getting the necessary amount of sleep, even with children of different ages or different stages of life.
4. Nighttime health starts during the day.
Most importantly, healthy nighttime habits start with healthy daytime habits—and the best way to prioritize sleep is to make it just one part of an active, well-nourished, and low-stress lifestyle. As far as activities go, doctors recommend that parents provide children with outlets for their physical and creative energy without over-scheduling them; while you may think that filling up your kids’ schedules will tire them out come bedtime, children need time to unwind and relax from the day before they’ll be able to get to sleep. Additionally, an individual’s sleep schedule can also be affected by their diet. Studies have found that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy have been linked to sleeping for longer durations, while consuming sugar-sweetened beverages and other high-sugar products may lead to shorter sleep durations.
5. Limit light intake.
By now, we’ve all heard that scrolling through your social media feed and having the TV on are not necessarily a good way to relax before falling asleep. What is it about screens that’s so bad? As it turns out, exposure to blue light can actually limit the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles. To ensure that light intake won’t affect melatonin levels close to bedtime, doctors recommend powering down devices a full hour before bedtime and avoiding watching television before trying to sleep. Parents on nighttime duty should further limit their (and their kids’) exposure to light from the TV, bathroom, cell phones, refrigerator, or clocks during changes or feeds to help ease the transition back to sleep. For those worried that the late sunsets of Daylight-Saving Time might delay bedtime, dimmers can help keep your family on track: install one in the main room and turn it down every thirty minutes after dinner to signal that the day is winding down.
6. Be a role model.
With everything parents are juggling, it’s no surprise that they often end up sacrificing their own self-care to take care of the family. But kids are always watching, learning, and absorbing behaviors, and those that develop healthy sleeping habits often come from families where the parents model this behavior themselves. Parents should strive to make sufficient sleep a priority for the whole family—themselves included. To make this possible, work with your partner to split up night duty, create a bedtime routine, and set rules; for example, agreeing to avoid co-sleeping not only with infants, but also with older kids and pets. Setting a thermostat between 60 and 65 degrees at night, and selecting the right pillow for your sleeping style, can further help adults improve their sleep patterns. Whatever you do, don’t forget about yourselves—and don’t forget that doctors recommend eight hours of sleep each night for adults.
Making sure both you and your child are getting enough quality sleep is always relevant—but with our daily schedules thrown into upheaval, it’s more challenging than ever to make sure your family is developing and maintaining healthy sleep habits. Not sure if you should be worried about your child’s sleep issues? If your child is snoring, working hard to breathe, or pauses/gasps for air while sleeping, they might have obstructive sleep apnea, and you should contact your pediatrician right away. You are the expert when it comes to your child: write down all concerns and talk to your pediatrician at their next check-up, or visit ProHealthMD.com to find a doctor near you. To help reduce your risk of exposure, you can visit with your doctor by phone or secure video. If you have questions or would like to seek care, please call your ProHealth doctor’s office or visit our information hub online
Information from the doctors at ProHealth Physicians; Regional Medical Directors in Pediatrics Dr. Susan Lelko and Dr. Craig Keanna, Director of Sleep Medicine Dr. James C. O’Brien and Elizabeth Parcella, Registered Dietitian, CDN, and CLC.