Every parent should know the importance of their own and their child’s sleep.
When well-timed and of sufficient duration, it sets the scene for more relaxed and successful family relationships.
A wealth of scientific study backs this up, citing how much, how well, and when you sleep as crucial to mental and physical health (O’Callaghan, 2016).
Poor sleep quality in children activates a hormonal response, increasing “appetite and food consumption leading to obesity” and reduces mental and physical wellbeing (Dube Khan, Loehr, Chu, & Veugelers, 2017, p. 2).
Sound strategies for healthy sleep, known as sleep hygiene, can reduce bedtime resistance and anxiety, and improve overall quantity and quality. We’ll dive into these strategies and provide tips and suggested apps that can help get your children off to sleep quickly and easily.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
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What Is Sleep Hygiene?
“Sleep problems are prevalent in the global population” and can be acute or chronic (Irish, Kline, Gunn, Buysse, & Hall, 2015, p. 1). Roughly 56% of Americans experience issues regarding their sleep every year, with 31.6% of people, across 10 countries, clinically classified as having insomnia (Irish et al., 2015).
Adequate sleep is not simply something that makes us feel less tired the next day. It impacts our motivation, cognitive functioning, and even likelihood of serious medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (Irish et al., 2015).
A lack of the right sort of sleep, in particular rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, has been found to impact creativity, emotional response, decision making, and incidence of depression across a range of ages (Hooper, 2018).
Despite the importance and obvious benefits of sleep, therapeutic interventions are often limited to those who either qualify as having a clinical problem or seek treatment themselves (Irish et al., 2015).
Fortunately, sleep self-help has proven successful.
Good sleep hygiene is considered the best and most reliable approach to getting high-quality sleep and is important for the REM phase, believed to be vital for consolidating memories about tasks learned that day (O’Callaghan, 2016).
“Sleep hygiene is defined as a set of behavioral and environmental recommendations intended to promote healthy sleep.”
Irish et al., 2015, p. 1
What you don’t do can be as important as what you do. For example, the following factors are all essential ingredients of a good night’s sleep (Irish et al., 2015; O’Callaghan, 2016):
- Avoid caffeine later in the day
- Exercise regularly
- Eliminate noise from the sleeping environment
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Reduce blue light (emitted from phones and tablets) before bed
- Ensure a comfortable room temperature
- Sleep in familiar places
While much of the research on sleep hygiene is limited to clinical settings, it has considerable potential to improve sleep, with clear benefits to the wellbeing of the general population and, in particular, children.
Inadequate sleep in the young significantly affects their academic performance, capacity to pay attention, and ability to regulate their behavior (Golem et al., 2019).
Promoting Healthy Sleep in Children: 15 Tips
There is a wealth of advice available to encourage positive sleeping habits in children.
Much of it focuses on behaviors and situational factors that parents can promote and children can adopt with ease.
Tips to help children maintain good sleep hygiene include the following (Seattle Children’s Hospital, 2020; Wiseman, 2020; Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, 2020; Mindell, Li, Sadeh, Kwon, & Goh, 2015):
Maintain consistency with both bedtimes and wake times throughout the week – even weekends. A regular sleep schedule should work with the child’s natural biological clock to promote predictable dozing off.
- Bedtime regularity
Putting in place a consistent and predictable bedtime routine (such as brushing teeth, warm bath, bedtime story, and then lights out) provides a sense of familiarity and comfort that is the opposite of being uncertain about getting to sleep.
- Associate the bed with sleep
Avoid spending too much non-sleep time in bed, as this can stop children from associating it with sleep.
- Relaxation techniques
Visualizing relaxing scenes, such as the beach or vacations, along with slow abdominal breathing, can help children become calm and ready for sleep.
- Maintain the right sort of environment
A child’s room should be a comfortable temperature, in relaxed surroundings, and quiet.
- Clock visibility
Constantly watching the clock is detrimental to sleep. To avoid the anxiety it produces, either remove the clock, cover it, or turn it away.
- Avoid highly stimulating activities before bed
Avoid video games and exercise immediately before sleep. Ideally, remove electronics and digital devices from the bedroom.
- Security objects
Dolls, soft toys, and blankets can help children transition to a feeling of security and safety in bed when you leave them to fall asleep.
- Exercise during the day
Physical activity during the day, while providing many other positives to physical and mental wellbeing, can promote sleep at night.
- Bedtime delay
When children genuinely appear not to be tired, it may be necessary to hold off taking them to bed for 30 minutes so that they fall asleep more quickly. Over the following days, parents can bring the bedtime forward.
- Maintain a sleep diary
Track your child’s sleep times and activities before going to bed to identify what works well and what hinders a good night’s sleep.
- Tossing and turning
When a child is unsettled in bed, it can be better to take them out for 20 minutes to perform a low-stimulation activity such as reading them a book before putting them back in.
- Schedule worry time
If children are bedtime worriers, it can be helpful and even fun to have a worry time earlier in the day to talk about and share fears and concerns, perhaps engaging toys in the conversation.
- Avoid sleeping elsewhere
Falling asleep in other locations can become a habit. Encourage the child to go to bed drowsy.
- Brief and boring checks
When checking on your child, try to make it low-key. Reassure them you are close by without too much stimulation.
10 Techniques and Activities for Teenagers
“Sleep is a core behavior in adolescents, consuming up to a third or more of the day” (Tarokh, Saletin, & Carskadon, 2016, p. 182). Quality sleep is crucial in this age group and beyond, supporting effective cognitive functioning and reducing psychiatric and developmental disorders.
During teenage development, with new and emerging social roles, increased autonomy, changes to circadian rhythms, and a greater tolerance for sleep pressure (literally resisting the urge to sleep), it is even more essential to put in place better sleep hygiene (Tarokh et al., 2016).
While many, if not all, the earlier approaches remain useful for teenagers, there are a few more relevant to this age group, including the following (Wiseman, 2020; Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, 2020):
- Screen curfew
The blue light emitted from TVs, tablets, and other mobile devices suppresses the hormone melatonin and stimulates the brain, making it harder to get ready for sleep. Keep such devices out of the bedroom and encourage downtime at least an hour before sleep.
- Avoid caffeine
Avoid soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate within the six hours leading up to bedtime, as it makes getting to sleep difficult and can cause sleep disturbances. Even small amounts of caffeine can have a significant impact on sleep quantity and quality.
- Avoid sleeping with a pet
While it can seem cozy to fall asleep with your pet, their movement can cause minor interruptions to sleep. Instead, leave them outside the bedroom and include them as part of the bedtime routine.
- Bedroom environment
The sleeping environment is crucial at any age, yet during teenage years when interests and hobbies form, it is vital to ensure that the bedroom remains comfortable and appropriate for sleep. Fresh air, soothing smells, and dimmed lights can be helpful, along with a decluttered bedroom.
Activities that can be valuable in teenage years should promote a reduction in stress while encouraging healthy eating and physical activity. Changes to teens’ body and brain, including melatonin production, can shift their natural circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to fall asleep at a reasonable time and harder to wake up (Teen Sleep Hub, 2021).
Positive habits may include the following (Wiseman, 2020; Mindell et al., 2015):
- Writing in a journal
Capturing thoughts in a journal or diary can be a healthy way to maintain and reflect on the positives in a teenager’s life and increase a sense of security.
- Mindfulness exercises
Meditation and mindfulness techniques (including guided imagery, body awareness, and breathing techniques) reduce stress hormones and calm the nervous system before bedtime. They can be employed at any time of day but may be particularly helpful in the lead-up to sleep.
- Healthy eating
Eating well has many physical and mental health benefits and is of particular value for a good night’s sleep. Avoid going to bed hungry by eating a low-sugar snack earlier in the evening, but also try not to go to sleep too full.
- Create a bedtime routine
While social habits are likely to change and restrictions lifted, creating a bedtime routine remains associated with “less sleep disruption and longer total sleep time” (Mindell et al., 2015, p. 717).
- Avoid sleeping in
Staying in bed to make up for lost sleep will disrupt the internal body clock; instead, try to maintain or return to a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
- Seek professional help
Seeking professional help for ongoing sleep problems or insomnia may be necessary. Keep a diary of sleeping habits to identify sleep patterns and problems that require help. Consider approaching a sleep coach, trained in reestablishing good sleep for struggling people.
5 Handouts, Checklists, and Worksheets
The American Academy of Pediatrics has created a family media plan to help encourage digital switch-off sufficiently early to reduce sleep disruption.
Try it out and create a personalized approach for both parents and children working together to create a set of goals and rules appropriate to the family’s values.
UK-based Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children provides some helpful guides for sleep hygiene, including the following:
- This Sleep Hygiene in Children and Young People information sheet provides a valuable guide for putting in place a routine around a child’s bedtime and details the recommended amount of sleep according to age.
- This shortened Getting a Good Night’s Sleep guide presents an easy-to-read checklist that can be printed and put somewhere visible to remind children and adults what to do and avoid before bedtime.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers guidance and a set of free publications that promote a good night’s sleep at any age, including the following:
- Getting a Good Night’s Sleep is a printable infographic with tips that encourage a healthy sleep pattern.
The National Sleep Foundation has a downloadable diary to record sleeping habits and sleep patterns. Try this simple-to-use tool to figure out what sleeping problems you have and when to seek professional help.
How to encourage good sleep habits in kids – Child Mind Institute
Top 4 Apps to Sleep Better at Night
While it is best to avoid technology before bed, we have included several of our favorite apps that help promote better sleep.
Sleep by Headspace
This app helps you learn to manage your stress through guided breathing, reduce your symptoms of anxiety and fear, and encourage a state of mind that promotes sleep.
Aimed at improving your health and happiness through reducing stress and improving sleep quality, Calm creates a personalized experience to help you find the sleep you need.
More useful for parents than children, this award-winning app from Timeshifter helps avoid and aids recovery from jet lag by providing tips and guidance to minimize disruption to circadian rhythms.
PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources
We have many tools and downloadable worksheets to help address common sleep challenges faced by children and teenagers.
To get you started, take a look at the following free assessments and interventions:
- Sleep Restriction
This in-depth sleep intervention draws on principles from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) to establish a sleep window, break bad sleep habits, and address anxieties around sleep.
- Two-Week Sleep Diary
This diary template helps you systematically identify and track lifestyle factors that may be regularly interfering with sleep.
- Are You Sleep Deprived?
With modification, parents can use this checklist to help their children assess whether they are getting sufficient sleep.
- Sleep Hygiene Checklist
This worksheet helps you consider and adjust features of a bedroom (and how it is used) that may affect a child’s quality of sleep.
- Sleep Quiz
This checklist helps you assess whether you are giving sleep sufficient priority in your life and identify what actions you may need to take to get optimal sleep.
- 17 Positive Psychology Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
With good reason, children’s sleep is one of the most common concerns of parents.
Inadequate sleep is associated with child obesity and emotional, cognitive, and behavioral issues (Mindell et al., 2015). Not only that, ongoing, high-quality sleep is vital to academic performance and building healthy, long-term relationships while avoiding antisocial behavior (Tarokh et al., 2016).
Promoting sleep hygiene and educating parents and children in such practices will likely benefit the child’s mental and physical wellbeing and build confidence in their ability to sleep while reducing parents’ cause for concern.
When combined, exercise, healthy eating, and positive bedroom environment changes can intervene and improve disrupted sleeping patterns.
Putting in place daily routines, especially around bedtime, typically results in lower bedtime anxiety, less sleep disruption, and increased sleep times (Mindell et al., 2015).
Reducing the use of TVs, computers, tablets, and phones at least an hour before bedtime has equally positive outcomes and should be a nighttime priority (Dube et al., 2017).
Other beneficial activities, such as relaxation and breathing techniques, are easily implemented and reduce stress and worry while encouraging a sense of calm and peace.
Why not try out some tips, approaches, and worksheets yourself or with your client to implement a comprehensive sleep hygiene strategy to tackle temporary and long-term sleep concerns?
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Dube, N., Khan, K., Loehr, S., Chu, Y., & Veugelers, P. (2017). The use of entertainment and communication technologies before sleep could affect sleep and weight status: A population-based study among children. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(1).
- Golem, D., Eck, K. M., Delaney, C. L., Clark, R. L., Shelnutt, K. P., Olfert, M. D., & Byrd-Bredbenner, C. (2019). “My stuffed animals help me”: The importance, barriers, and strategies for adequate sleep behaviors of school-age children and parents. Sleep Health, 5(2), 152–160.
- Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. (2020, June). Sleep hygiene in children and young people. NHS Foundation Trust. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/procedures-and-treatments/sleep-hygiene-children/
- Hooper, R. (2018, March 21). 5 ways to boost your dreams and improve your health. New Scientist. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2164187-5-ways-to-boost-your-dreams-and-improve-your-health/
- Irish, L. A., Kline, C. E., Gunn, H. E., Buysse, D. J., & Hall, M. H. (2015). The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 22, 1–14.
- Mindell, J. A., Li, A. M., Sadeh, A., Kwon, R., & Goh, D. Y. T. (2015). Bedtime routines for young children: A dose-dependent association with sleep outcomes. Sleep, 38(5), 717–722.
- O’Callaghan, T. (2016, May 25). How to sleep better. New Scientist. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23030750-700-how-to-sleep-better/
- Seattle Children’s Hospital. (2020). Sleep hygiene for children. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://www.seattlechildrens.org/pdf/PE1066.pdf
- Tarokh, L., Saletin, J. M., & Carskadon, M. A. (2016). Sleep in adolescence: Physiology, cognition and mental health. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 70, 182–188.
- Teen Sleep Hub. (2021, April 30). 10 Reasons why you can’t sleep. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://teensleephub.org.uk/10-reasons-why-you-cant-sleep/
- Wiseman, J. (2020, September 24). Sleep strategies for kids. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep/sleep-strategies-kids