By Krisi Mattingly, LCSW – August 6, 2019

Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in America today. Poor sleep habits have been linked to problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, increased risk for heart disease and cancer, memory issues, compromised immune system, and weight gain. 

Students are busier than ever with more expectations and demands of their time, so sleep may not seem too high on their priority list. There is also the added lure of the internet, social media, and electronics like video games or TV.

Getting the recommended amount of sleep, however, is one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep for grade schoolers, 8 to 10 hours for teens, and 7 to 9 hours for adults.  If your family has been struggling to get the proper quantity or quality of sleep lately, here are some tips to make sleep a priority in your household.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try not to deviate from this too much, even on weekends or days off.
  • Establish a routine. Try to follow the same routine each night before bed. A good one for younger children is the 3 B’s – take a bath, brush teeth and read a book. 
  • Limit screen time before bed. TV and other electronics are stimulating to the brain. The “blue light” can suppress melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Turn off all devices 1 hour before bedtime. A good solution: Set up a family overnight charging area for smartphones and tablets in an area far from the bedroom.  
  • Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something calming, then return to your bed when you feel tired. Some ideas are reading a book, writing in a journal, drawing, listening to music, or taking a warm bath.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at least 4 hours before bed. Consuming these substances can hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid napping. If your child likes to come home from school and crash, try to keep them from doing this if possible. If not, limit naps to 30 minutes or less.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping. Using your bed for watching TV, using a smartphone or working will lead your body to associate your bed with these activities. If you reserve your bed solely for sleeping, your body will recognize this and hopefully fall asleep easier.
  • Exercise and eat well. Being active during the day and eating healthy are both vital to better quality sleep. However, you should avoid eating big meals and strenuous exercise 2 hours before bed.
  • Sleep in a comfortable environment. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, quiet and dark. Darkness promotes sleep and healthy levels of melatonin.

If you can use as many of these suggestions as possible, you should notice big improvements in your sleep habits. If the whole family follows these guidelines, everyone will be more healthy, productive and agreeable!