School has been back in session for a month now and if you are like a lot of parents, you may have noticed that all of the excitement that accompanies a shiny new year has been replaced with a brand of foot stomping, eye-rolling surliness that would make even “Oscar the Grouch” blush.
You may think that your children are just going through an adjustment period. And truth be told, they probably are. But it might be something much simpler than you think. It could be a good old fashioned case of exhaustion. Bottom line: Your children are probably really, really TIRED!
Part of the cause might be the crazy-early wake-up time you need to enforce. Part of it might be the fact that you are an “activities family” with three kids going in three different directions, five nights a week. And of course a big part might be homework. Why is there always SO much homework?!?!?
With so much going on, sometimes it is easy to overlook the importance of a good night’s sleep for our kids. We have ALL been there. But after a few too many days of moodiness, you might decide that it is high-time you make sleep a priority in your household.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has known about the importance of sleep for a long time. In fact, they have age-specific recommendations. They say that little ones aged 3-5 should get at least 10-13 hours of sleep per day (including naps). School-aged children, 6-12-years-old, need 9-12 hours and teenagers (13-18) should be sleeping 8-10 hours per night!
The AAP’s expert panel on sleep even found that getting adequate sleep on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life and mental and physical health. On the flip side, they discovered that NOT getting enough rest is associated with issues like hypertension, obesity, depression and an increased risk of injuries.
Of course all of this makes perfect sense. As adults we know that we feel a lot better about life after a good night’s sleep. But are the AAP’s recommendations really practical?
Most kids today have piles of homework and endless after-school activities. Many nights they aren’t even eating dinner until way past sundown. So how on earth are we, as parents, supposed to make sure they get the suggested amount of shut eye?
Since most of us are not just going to suddenly cancel our activities and stop making our children do their homework (although it is tempting!), it might make more sense to shift the focus from helping our children get more sleep, to helping them get better sleep….and in the process uncover ways to minimize evening stress and (maybe) gain a few extra minutes of slumber here and there.
That said, here are a few real-world, fairly easy-to-implement strategies that might help:
- Go tech-free before bed and remove screens from kids’ rooms. True, your youngsters will moan and groan about what an ogre you are, but you can back up your new rules with the support of the AAP. They say that all electronics should be turned off 30 minutes before light’s-out and all screened items (TV’s, tablets, gaming systems, computers, etc.) should be banished from a child’s room. Period.
- No phones! Phones have screens, too…so create a charging station in the kitchen, the family room, etc., and make a habit of keeping your children’s phones in this special spot each and every night. They will not like it, but it will be so worth it! Meanwhile, buy a regular alarm clock so that your clever angels cannot use “waking up” as a valid reason to keep a phone next to the bed.
- Watch out for sugary snacks and liquids of any kind. Sugar brings on hyperactivity and too much liquid (milk, juice, water, whatever) can mean sleep interruption. You want to minimize late- night bathroom visits and be done with bed wetting. Of course, caffeine is totally out of the question. Just help them avoid it as much as humanly possible.
- Schedule and be prepared for homework. Keep a homework calendar and plot assignments and studying for activity-free nights. If you are shuttling one child around to a sibling’s activities, pack a homework bag to keep in the car. Load it up with pencils, markers, paper and whatever else your child might need to complete an assignment. That way homework can be done while you drive all over town. It won’t be as much fun as playing Clash of Clans on their phone for two straight hours, but it will make them a LOT more pleasant to live with in the long run. Side note: Find out if your older children can do homework or study during lunch. Some high schools will allow students go to the library during the lunch period or even work on group projects in an empty classroom. Look into it and encourage your kids to use the time if they can.
- Plan meals ahead and have healthy, quick foods at the ready. It is a pain at first, but you will be so glad if you get in the habit. Remember: It doesn’t need to be fancy. Things like scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast, grilled cheese and soup, baked potato and salad bar are easy and filling without breaking the bank or taking forever to prepare. Keep a supply of things like cooked pasta, cooked chicken, tortillas, rice and frozen veggies on hand to make a variety of fast meals. These foods are far easier on the digestive system than greasy fast food and can aid in much more comfortable sleep.
- Put them in water. As simple as it sounds, a warm bath or shower can be the fastest way to transition your kids from a crazy evening to a restful night. Have an athlete? Put them into a tub of lavender or eucalyptus epsom salts. Even the boys will enjoy it! The smell isn’t that strong (or too girly) and it can be downright soothing after a rough practice.
- Tidy rooms make for sweet dreams. As much as they hate it, have kids tidy up their rooms a bit before climbing into bed. A cluttered space isn’t restful.
- Get everything ready for morning before hitting the sack. Use that 30-minutes of electronics-free time mentioned above to get clothes laid out, backpacks packed, gym bags refreshed and that missing shoe pulled out from under the sofa and placed by the back door. The more prepared your children are for the next day, the easier it will be for them to relax and nod off.
- White noise is your friend. A recent article in Popular Science explained it like this: “White noise creates a masking effect, blocking out those sudden changes that frustrate light sleepers or people trying to fall asleep.” You don’t even need a fancy sound machine. A simple fan will do or even some gentle music. Whatever you think will lull your child to sleep and minimize distractions in the night.
- There is magic in repetition! Once you get a good routine established try to keep to it. Just don’t get so caught up in trying to keep the routine that you forget to remain fluid. We all know that schedules can change in an instant which means some nights even the best laid plans just aren’t going to fall into place. And that’s ok. Just do your best and keep at it. If it cuts just one foot-stomp and eye-roll from your day…you can consider your efforts successful!