Back To School Sleep Tips

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As the summer is drawing to a close, it’s time to recognize that Back-to-School is just around the corner.  If you feel that things have gotten off routine this summer, then it’s a good idea to start getting things back on track.  In a few weeks, our children will be exposed to new challenges and begin to learn new skills and more about the world around them.  While it may seem like a no-brainer, research has demonstrated that children who are getting quality sleep, have better academic performance, and are also more optimistic in general, which is a healthy attitude when learning new skills.[1][2]  It’s also important to note that daily activities, diet and screen time can impact academic achievement as well.[3]  To help our kids be there best on school days, it’s important to know how much sleep they should be getting.  The National Sleep Foundation recommends that preschoolers (3-5 yrs) be getting 10-13 hrs sleep a day and school aged (6-13 yrs) children get around 9-11 hrs of sleep a day.[4]  Consider the time that your child needs to wake up for the day to be ready for school and count the hours backwards to determine what is an appropriate bedtime for them.  Here are a few other things that you can do to help prepare your kids with good sleep hygiene and make them back-to-school ready.

 

  1. Get bedtime back on track

It’s understandable that with longer daytime hours in the summer, bedtimes can often slide later too.  At least a week before school starts, begin moving bedtime earlier in 10-15 min increments to allow your children to adjust to going to sleep at a more reasonable bedtime, if they have been going to bed much later.

  1. Maintain regular evening and bedtime routines

I’ve said it in other blog posts and interviews.  Maintaining a regular routine is going to be your biggest tool in keeping your kids well adjusted and well rested.  Encouraging physical activity in the evening and regular mealtimes will also help tire out kids as the bedtime routine time begins.

  1. Limit electronic use/screen time exposure 1 hour before bedtime

Its understandable that screen time is becoming a more common thing among school aged kids, especially if they are using tablets for school work.  It’s understandable that some homework assignments may require electronic device usage.  However, you should control when your children are using these devices, limit access for younger children about 1 hour leading up to bedtime, and keep it out of the bedroom.  There is too much temptation to continue playing games and chatting and texting with friends on mobile devices late into the night.  Furthermore, the blue light from the screen inhibits melatonin production and therefore interferes with what should be happening normally in line with the circadian rhythm.

  1. Create a conducive sleep environment

People sleep best in a cool, dark environment.  Ideally the temperature should be between 18-22 C (68-72 F).  If it is still particularly sunny outside when you want your children to be sleeping, invest in good quality black out shades to eliminate as much light exposure as possible.  Some children may be more comfortable with a night light in the room if they have some apprehension about being in the dark alone.  If you get a night light in the room, choose something in the red-amber light spectrum, to avoid wavelengths that interferes with melatonin production.

  1. Encourage healthy diet

Dietary issues, such as Iron and Zinc deficiency can often lead to fatigue and poor sleep habits.  It’s a known fact that too much sugar and caffeine can affect your child’s behavior, and possible also make it difficult to sleep. Limit caffeine intake as much as possible.  The caffeine half life in adults is 5-6 hrs, and due to body weight and metabolism, it has a longer half life in children.  Having a well-balanced diet is well known to promote overall well being and will keep your kids alert when needed.

  1. Encourage regular physical activity

This is one of those tips that we should certainly be encouraging for our kids year-round.  Their bodies are meant to be moving, using up energy, and learning/training to do more complex activities. Not only will help them focus when its time to learn other new skills, but it will also prime their bodies for sleep when the time is right.

  1. Discuss expectations with your children and encourage active communication

As our kids get older they become better negotiators and will expect an explanation for everything they don’t readily want to do.  In all fairness, we should explain why sleep is important to their health and how it impacts their daily mood as well as their performance in school, sport, and interactions with friends and family. Be clear in your expectations around bedtime rules and ensure that your child understands them. Set limits and be consistent.

Finally, be a good role model and practice some of what you preach.  If you want your child to put away their electronics before bedtime, put yours away too.  Our kids lead by example, so if you’re setting a good one, they’re likely to follow in your footsteps.

[1] Gruber R et al. 2016.  School-based sleep education program improves sleep and academic performance of school-age children. Sleep Med. 21:93-100.

[2] Lemola S., et al. 2011.  Sleep quantity, quality and optimism in children.  J Sleep Res. 20:12-20.

[3] Faught EL, et al. 2017. It is knows The combined impact of diet, physical activity, sleep and screen time on academic achievement:  a prospective study of elementary school students in Nova Scotia, Canada. Int. J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 14(1): 29.

[4] https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need-0

 

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Spring Forward on March 12, 2017

 

Daylight Savings Time 2016 begins again on Sunday, March 12 at 2:00 a.m. That means that you’ll need to turn your clocks forward one hour to 3:00 a.m.  It also means that your young baby  or child, who normally wakes up at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. may wake up 1 hour later at 7:00 or 8:00 am.  Springing forward often feels like we are losing an hour of the day, but if you have a super early rising child, it can help them wake at what is a more reasonable time.  Regardless of your age, many people can find it hard to adjust to the time change. Here are a few tips to help keep your kids on track as we “Spring Forward.”

  1.  If you don’t already have a solid bedtime routine, get started!  Your bedtime routine will be your child’s best tool to make it through the time change with the least amount of difficulty.  Keep the bedtime routine to 30-40 min.  Start with a warm bath, followed by brushing of the teeth, diapers and pajamas, and finishing off the routine in your child’s room with choice and/or combination of lullabies and stories.  The key is to keep your routine consistent and prevent it from dragging out. Avoid food or snacks once the bedtime routine has started.
  2. Expose your child(ren) to as much fresh air and sunlight during their waking periods as possible.  This will help “reset” your children’s biological clock and help them adjust to the times that they should be awake or sleeping.  You’re also likely to notice if you replace “Screen Time” with more outdoor or physical activity, or even quality time together, your child has an easier time falling asleep.  Definitely limit screen time and exposure to “blue” light about 1 hour before you want your child to be sleeping, as this can interfere with melatonin production.
  3. While this isn’t necessary for all children, you can help your child adjust better to the time change by making bed and mealtimes earlier in 15 min increments on a daily basis a few days before. 

    • On March 9th, start all meals* and sleep times earlier by 15 min
    • On March 10th, start all meals* and sleep routines earlier by 30 min
    • On March 11th, start all meals* and sleep routines earlier by 45 min
    • On March 12th (Beginning of DST), have all meals and sleep times happen according to your normal schedule.

    * This isn’t always possible due to scheduled daily activities like school or other lessons….especially if you happen to be o March Break this week – you may have family activities that get in the way of making things happen earlier than they usually would.

4.  If you have a toddler or preschooler that tends to be an early riser,  there is good news.  Typically, because springing forward means we lose an hour, it also means that your child will be sleeping an hour later, according to the clock.  However, the sun will be rising earlier over the next few weeks and this can begin to trigger your child to start waking earlier as well. So ensure that you have really good quality black out shades to keep your child’s environment dark and prevent the early morning sun from encouraging and earlier morning start.  For older toddlers and pre-schoolers, having a conversation with them to discuss the time change can be helpful too.  If you are already using a tot clock, or a similar “ok to wake” tool, like an Ooly, adjust the timing along with the instruction in tip #3.  You can also use a lamp on a timer, so that the lamp turns  on in the morning when it is ok to wake up and leave the room.  If your child does wake up before it’s “ok to wake”  let them know it’s ok to be awake, but it’s not polite to wake up everyone else in the house who want to sleep.  They can stay in bed and try to go back to sleep, or if they really can’t sleep, then they can quietly find an activity to do in their room.  You may choose to introduce a “quiet activity” box in their room that will include things like colouring books, puzzles, Lego or Duplo blocks, etc.

Preparing for the end of Daylight Savings Time 2016

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Daylight Saving Time 2016 ends on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2:00 a.m. That means that you’ll need to turn your clocks back one hour to 1:00 a.m.  It also means that you young baby  or child, who normally wakes up at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. will wake up 1 hour earlier at 5:00 or 6:00 am.  While adults may think that turning back time means they gain an extra hour to sleep in, that doesn’t usually happen in a household with little children and so here are a few tips to help keep your kids on track as we “Fall Back.”

  1.  If you don’t already have a solid bedtime routine, get started!  Your bedtime routine will be your child’s best tool to make it through the time change with the least amount of difficulty.  Keep the bedtime routine to 30-40 min.  Start with a warm bath, followed by brushing of the teeth, diapers and pajamas, and finishing off the routine in your child’s room with choice and/or combination of lullabies and stories.  The key is to keep your routine consistent and prevent it from dragging out. Avoid food or snacks once the bedtime routine has started.
  2. Expose your child(ren) to as much fresh air and sunlight during their waking periods as possible.  This will help “reset” your children’s biological clock and help them adjust to the times that they should be awake or sleeping.
  3. While this isn’t necessary for all children, you can help your child adjust better to the time change by pushing bed and mealtimes back in 15 min increments on a daily basis a few days before.

    • On November 3rd, delay all meals* and sleep times by 15 min
    • On November 4th, delay all meals* and sleep routines by 30 min
    • On November 5th, delay all meals* and sleep routines by 45 min
    • On November 6th (end of DST), have all meals and sleep times happen according to your normal schedule.

    * This isn’t always possible due to scheduled daily activities like school or other lessons.

4.  If you have a toddler or preschooler that tends to be an early riser, definitely have a conversation with them, giving them the heads up about the time change and if you are already using a tot clock or similar “ok to wake” tool, adjust the timing along with the instruction in tip #3.  Personally, I like to use a lamp on a timer, so that the lamp turns off at the end of the bedtime routine, and turns on in the morning when it is ok to wake up and leave the room.  If your child does wake up before it’s “ok to wake”  let them know it’s ok to be awake, but it’s not polite to wake up everyone else in the house who want to sleep.  They can stay in bed and try to go back to sleep, or if they really can’t sleep, then they can quietly find an activity to do in their room.  You may choose to introduce a “quiet activity” box in their room that will include things like colouring books, puzzles, Lego or Duplo blocks, etc.

 

Thanksgiving Holiday Sleep Tips for Your Baby

We are into the fall season, and with it comes the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.  This will be a time for families to break bread and share in feasts as we get together to give thanks for the many blessing and good things in our lives. It’s a lot of fun to get together with  extended family, but this change in routine can cause some worry for parents with young babies and children in regards to their sleep habits and how they will behave.  Many people are uncomfortable with their child crying in the presence of others, and crying often does come hand in hand with over-tiredness, so here are a few tips to be prepared and help keep your little ones well rested during the festivities and holiday season.

1. Plan Ahead.

It’s generally well understood that people (including babies) that are well rested are typically more flexible and able to handle longer waking hours or changes to their normal routine than those that are chronically overtired.  In knowing that Thanksgiving may end up with family gathered around the dinner table or living room conversing late into the evening past regular bedtimes, ensure that your children are well rested in the days leading up to Thanksgiving weekend.  Planning ahead also means that if you will be staying overnight away from home, you should anticipate making your accommodations as comfortable and conducive to sleep as you can for your child.  So if you’re planning on bringing a travel bed or play pen, make sure that you bring some other comfort items from home to add familiarity to it.  This can include sheets, blankets, a lovey (if your child has one), a white noise machine, and your child’s favorite bedtime stories.  Often times children aren’t used to the noises of someone else’s house, especially early in the morning if your hosts wake early to prepare breakfast for everyone.  Bringing your white noise machine will help drown out the background noise of the house and other guests that “may” be loud sleepers or early morning risers.

2. Respect the Routine.

If you don’t already have a regular daily and bedtime routine, get started!  Many parents sometime wonder if this means that they should put sleep training off until the holidays or continue to implement the behavioral intervention to change sleep habits for the better.  I certainly would not advocate for starting “sleep training” a couple days before the Thanksgiving weekend, since it’s difficult to be very consistent when you’re traveling or having many guests over and have to host.  However, sticking to your routine, including a regular bedtime routine, helps kids and young babies know what to expect next and prepare their body for sleep.  Incorporating a warm bath is also very important, even if you are feeling rushed.  Warm baths increase body temperature and once out of the bath the body cools.  This causes a drowsy effect and amplifies what happens naturally as the circadian rhythm of our bodies prepares for sleep.  So it’s good idea to continue to keep that warm comforting bath before bedtime, even if you are staying overnight in someone else’s home.

3.  Manage Mealtime. 

Everyone knows eating turkey makes you sleepy!  In fact it is well documented that the tryptophan in turkey is a sleep promoting agent as it is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin, both important hormones in sleep regulation. However, while eating turkey may make you a little drowsy, over eating – which usually happens during thanksgiving meals – is more likely to play a role in promoting sleepy feelings because of increased insulin release, which results in an increase in neurotransmitters that promote sleep, much like serotonin.  Eating too much protein heavy foods before sleep  can lead to disrupted sleep because they are harder to digest than carbs.  As such, it would be best to try and keep mealtime for your child around the regular time that they usually eat with respect to bedtime.

4.  Communicate your child’s sleep needs to your guests/host.

Depending on where Thanksgiving is being held this year, letting your guests or your host know what your child’s sleep needs are will help to keep things “smooth” during the festivities.  That being said, while your child will likely need an earlier bed time that everyone else, the chatter and talking may still be above ideal levels for your child.  So again, bringing that white noise machine along with you can make falling asleep much more pleasant for your child.

Remember that Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to be merry with friends and family and reflect upon what we are thankful for.  Hopefully, with a little pre-planning and tips here in this blog post, you can help your child(ren) stay well rested and you’ll be thankful for their good moods in the morning!

 

Back to School Sleep Tips

It’s that time of year again!  The shopping malls are filled with parents stocking up on things their kids will be needing this September.  The excitement of the new school year, new friends, new teachers, and new subject matter are upon us as the summer is winding to a close. So, now is the time to focus on getting your child(ren) well rested so that their minds are prepared to absorb all the new information they’ll soon be learning.  It’s really easy to allow a good sleep routine to slide in the summer due to longer daytime hours and vacation.  So long as children are meeting their age specific sleep needs and are well rested, they are usually very flexible in managing a change with regard to things like later bedtimes on special occasions or during travel.  Here are your back to school sleep tips for a well rested and ready to learn brain:

  1. Dial back bedtime. If you know that your child has been going to bed later than he should be for his age, then it’s time to start making bedtime a little earlier each day to get it back to being within a reasonable age appropriate time.  Click here for a link to the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations on age specific sleep requirements.  Generally, school aged children (6-13 years) should be getting approximately 9-11 hours of sleep overnight, which makes ideal bedtime anytime between 7:00 – 9:00 pm.  Teenagers, aged 14-17, should get about 8-10 hrs.  If you know that your child has been going to bed later than he/she should for his/her age, then it’s certainly time to get them back on track.
  2. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. For most kids going to school for the first time, they may be used to a daytime nap, and will no longer have the opportunity to do so.  This may mean that in order to compensate for that amount of sleep, you may have to encourage an earlier bedtime.  “Catching up” on the weekend is not recommended to be a long term solution, although that doesn’t mean that sleeping in on the weekend is a bad thing.  However, if you notice that your child wants to stay in bed all day long on weekends, it’s a good indication that your child isn’t getting his/her fill of restorative sleep and would benefit from an earlier bedtime on a regular basis.
  3. Create a reliable bedtime routine. Just as you did for your baby, your older school aged child or teenager still benefits from a nightly bedtime routine.  As kids age, this routine will evolve. However, it’s really beneficial for younger kids in particular to keep a night-time ritual that involves story telling to help their body prepare for sleep.  It’s also a great way to stay connected with your child and learn about what the greatest or most challenging parts of their day were if there wasn’t enough time over dinner.
  4. Limit “screen time” and blue light exposure before bedtime. While you will hear many recommendations about creating a relaxing bedtime routine, sitting on the couch or bed watching TV or playing with video games or other electronics is not recommended as a “relaxing” technique before bedtime.  Exposure to blue light inhibits the natural production of melatonin, which begins signaling the body to prepare for sleep.  Blue light is emitted from all electronic screens, so limit exposure as you are helping your child(ren) prepare themselves for sleep.  Remember to also set a good example.  Put you own smartphone away during the bedtime routine.  If your child requests a night light, avoid those that are blue.  Try to find one that is amber coloured or in the red spectrum.
  5. Avoid sugar and caffeine before bedtime. For obvious reasons, it’s not recommended to have a lot of sugary treats or caffeinated drinks before bedtime.  Caffeine within 6 hrs of bedtime can interfere with normal biological and sleep patterns.
  6. CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY, and CONSISTENCY. Remember it may take as little as 3 days to make a change, but typically about 3 weeks to make a habit.   The sooner your children’s sleep gets back on track the better prepared they’ll be to take on the world!

Preparing Your Child for “Falling Back” 2015

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We all know that a lot of time and effort goes into introducing and maintaining a healthy sleep routine. For some of us, the beginning or ending of Daylight Savings Time (DST) can add another challenge to keeping our kids’ sleep routines in check. This year, Sunday November 1st, marks the end of DST, and here are some tips to help you prepare your child and make the time transition as smooth as possible.

Since we will be “falling back”, if your baby usually wakes at 6:00 or 7:00 am, they will wake up at 5:00 or 6:00 am instead because that is what their internal biological clock is used to doing. You can help you child adjust better to the time change by pushing bed and mealtimes back in 15 min increments on a daily basis a few days before.

• On October 29th, delay all meals* and sleep times by 15 min
• On October 30st, delay all meals* and sleep routines by 30 min
• On October 31st, delay all meals* and sleep routines by 45 min
• On November 1st (end of DST), have all meals and sleep times happen according to your normal schedule.

* This isn’t always possible due to scheduled daily activities like school or other lessons.

Other things to keep in mind:

• Despite the earlier bedtimes, as you are preparing for the end of DST, your child may not fall asleep until his/her usual bedtime. However, you will be encouraging him/her to relax a little earlier so that when the time shift occurs his/her body is prepared for it.
• I caution people from just keeping their children up later hoping they’ll wear themselves out. This leads to over-tiredness, which is likely to make it even more difficult to fall asleep.
• For toddlers who notice that it is still light outside once the time change occurs, a few things can be done:
(a) Ensure that the room is as dark as possible during sleep periods by using room darkening shades or curtains.
(b) Use of a lamp on a timer, a Gro-clock, or similar device, can help explain to children what time they are expected to go to sleep and what time it is ok to get up for the day. Remember that if you are using one of these devices, to also adjust the timers on them as you are preparing for the time change!
• It usually takes about a week for all things to iron out after the time change occurs, but you can help things along by exposing your child to as much fresh air and natural sunlight during their waking hours to help “reset” their biological clock.  This way when they come inside to a slightly darker environment, their bodies will be “primed” for sleep.
• Finally, having a consistent routine on a daily basis is going to be the most important factor in helping your child adjust to the time change!

Getting Ready to Spring Forward

While most of us in Atlantic Canada may not be seeing many signs of Spring coming soon, Daylight Savings Time is fast approaching.  For those of you with young children this does mean that the daily schedule you may have just had figured out will be affected…again!

On Sunday, March 8, 2015, the clocks will be springing forward.  This means that if you have a child who normally wakes up at 6:00 or 7:00 am, they are likely to sleep in an hour or so until their body adjusts to the time change.  Here are my tips for making the transition as easy as possible:

  • On March 5th, start all meals* and sleep times 15 min earlier
  • On March 6th, start all meals and sleep times 30 min earlier
  • On March 7th, start all meals and sleep times 45 min earlier
  • On March 8th (beginning of DST), have all meals and sleep times start according to your normal schedule.

*This isn’t always possible due to scheduled daily activities

Other Tips

  • As you’re offering earlier bedtimes in preparation for the time change, your child may not be ready for sleep right away.  However you are encouraging them to relax, and so long as your keep your routine consistent, there should be no reason for you to deal with major bedtime battles.
  • If you use a tot clock or keep a lamp on a timer in order for your child to know when it is “ok to wake,”  remember to adjust the timing on these tools during the transition period.
  • If you find your child is having difficulty adjusting to the time change, use daylight and outdoor activity to your advantage when you can.  Exposure to fresh air and sunlight will help reset your child’s biological clock and prime them for sleep when you get them in before nap times.
  • Of course, your best weapon against daylight savings time is having a consistent and predictable routine for your child.  Starting with a warm bath is the best cue for your child, as it is unlike anything else they do during the day.  Then limiting the bedtime routine to about 30 min, so it doesn’t drag out, you can incorporate your choice of lullabye, story time, family prayer, or daily reflection following pajamas and brushing teeth.  This is a special time to bond with your children, and if you’re consistent with it, not only will your efforts pay off, but your children will look forward to this time with you before bed too!