In today’s fast-paced and “always-on” world, we often forget about the importance of winding
down and making space for sleep. Sleep hygiene is the concept that we need to proactively
prepare ourselves (and our children) for sleep. Here are a few major concepts, and some
practical suggestions, for developing healthy sleep hygiene:
Our bodies and brains function better when they know what to expect. Having a consistent bedtime for your child is crucial in helping them have a good night’s rest. Having a consistent nap time for infants and toddlers is a great idea as well, when possible.
Our brain releases melatonin when it sees signs that bedtime is coming. Taking 20-30 minutes to slow down before bedtime helps encourage that melatonin to flow, and gets our bodies ready for bed. The best bedtime routines are relaxing activities such as singing, reading, cuddling, bathing, or listening to music. Try to dim the lights, and avoid screens during this time (see below).
We sleep best in dark, quiet and cool places. White noise (or any consistent/constant noise) is okay, as well. Light disrupts our natural sleep processes. Screens (including TVs, iPads, tablets, phones, etc) tell our brains to wake up, sending the wrong message when we are trying to go to sleep.
Remember, sleep is a habit. What we do on a daily basis is what our children will expect. Be loving but firm about bedtime and sleeping location. Allowing a child to sleep in a parent’s bed (if this is not what is desired) will reinforce this behavior.
Be careful about what tools our children use to get to sleep:
Security blankets and soothies are great tools; falling asleep on a bottle or while watching TV should be avoided. Certain things, like pacifiers, or being held by a parent, may be appropriate at certain ages, but should be “phased out” as the child gets older.