a young child sleeps soundly in bed

Family Health

A Psychologist’s Guide to Getting You and Your Kids to Sleep

Oct 22, 2019

Sleep: we all want it. But sometimes it doesn't come easily.

And research shows that today’s kids are getting less sleep than children from past generations.

Most parents know that not getting enough sleep can make kids moody and irritable. But do you know why? One big reason is stress. Lack of sleep reduces children’s ability to deal with stress, and is in fact a stressor itself.

Want to read more expert advice about sleep? Check out: Active Minds, Restless Sleep — An Expert’s Advice For Making Bedtime Sleep Time

How Do You Help?

A recent research review conducted at the University of British Columbia found that two of the best strategies to help children and youth get more sleep are establishing sleep routines and limiting technology before bedtime. 

• Set regular bedtimes and consistent bedtime routines. This not only gives you the best chance of getting your kids to bed at a decent time, it also helps young children develop rhythms for sleep and waking.

• Help your child wind down before bedtime with a bath, stories, quiet music or by doing some relaxed belly breathing together.

• Get kids off computers, tablets and cellphones at least an hour before bedtime. Device screens, and the light they emit, stimulate the brain in ways that make it harder for children — and adults — to feel ready for sleep.

• No cellphones in bed. A surprising number of teens and preteens send and receive text messages when they should be sleeping. Make night time the time when everybody recharges their cellphones. 

Physical activity and sleep

We often think that physical activity will help “tire children out.” And it can. But physical activity during the day also results in the release of hormones called endorphins, which reduce feelings of pent-up tension or anxiety. This will also help improve a child’s mood, and that lessened stress could help them sleep better.

Talk About It

Parents and children often talk about sleep in moments of disagreement.

“It’s past your bedtime!”

“Noooo! None of my friends have to go to bed this early!” 

Sometimes Parents Think of Their Own Tricks: The 3-Minute Sleep Trick That Saved My Son From Sleepless Nights

Try to have positive conversations about sleep, too. It’s important to teach and remind children that sleep is good for us. Sleep helps us feel good physically and mentally, restores our energy and, generally, helps us be our best selves. Use examples from the child’s own experience to illustrate these points, but try to do that in a positive way.

These conversations are most likely to be helpful when everyone is a good mood and when sleep is not an immediate issue. In other words, kids will be much less open to positive ideas about sleep when we’re struggling to get them to go to bed.

What sleep tricks have been most successful for you? Tell us your tips in the comments below!  

Article Author Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann
Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann

Dr. Ester Cole is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto providing services to school-age children, youth, families and schools. She was the Chair of The Psychology Foundation of Canada and the Parenting for Life program, and the past president of the Ontario Psychological Association and the Canadian Association of School Psychologists. She has published and lectured widely, and has been active on committees provincially, nationally and in the American Psychological Association.

John Hoffman is one of Canada’s top parenting and child development writers. He has written extensively for The Psychology Foundation of Canada for 22 years, including web articles for Stress Strategies and Staying on Top of Your Game and booklets for the Parenting For Life, Kids Have Stress Too! and Stress Lessons programs. He was also a featured writer and columnist for Today’s Parent magazine for over 20 years. 

Follow The Psychology Foundation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and visit psychologyfoundation.org to access 24/7 A Resource for Working Parents.

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