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Helping kids develop good sleep habits today can lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep. Children with healthy sleep habits tend to become adults with healthy sleep habits, so it's important to start these practices early.
Children thrive on consistency, and sleep schedules are no exception. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each night and day can help children know what to expect. This consistent timing can cut down on bedtime resistance, and help their bodies predict when it will be time to go to sleep at night.
A regular bedtime routine can help children wind down at night as well. However simple or elaborate, going through the same few actions each night sends a message that it's almost bedtime, and time to relax and start to feel sleepy.
Dim Lights After Sunset
Having lights on at night makes nighttime activities possible -- rather than trying to make your way around in the dark. But biologically, our bodies are designed to use light as a signal for our circadian rhythm, which tells us when it's time to wake up and go to sleep. When it's light, the brain is signaled that it's time to be awake, and when it's dark, it's time to be asleep.
Keeping bright lights on at night can confuse this signal, especially for children who may go to bed and wake up close to sunrise and sunset times. Blue wavelength light from electronic screens can be especially jarring.
It's best to avoid bright lights at night.Dim your lights after sunset by using small downward facing lamps instead of overhead lights. Avoid screen time at least one hour before bed.
Encourage Outdoor Activities
Just like avoiding nighttime light exposure is a good idea, getting daytime light exposure is essential to supporting a healthy circadian rhythm. When we are exposed to daylight, that helps us feel more awake and alert.
Encourage kids to play outside in the morning and afternoon, getting exposure to bright sunlight when possible. The outdoor activity will help them get exercise and use up energy so they'll be more worn out and ready to wind down and get to sleep at night.
Avoid Caffeine After School
Older children may be interested in drinking coffee or caffeinated sodas but should do so only in moderation. Excessive caffeine should be avoided, and kids should not drink coffee or sodas after school and especially not in the evenings. Children can feel the effects of caffeine for hours after consumption, so a cup of coffee in the afternoon can interfere with getting to bed on time at night.
Create a Healthy Sleep Environment
Make sure children feel comfortable sleeping in their bedroom. It should be a healthy sleep environment where they can feel relaxed. Encourage them to complete schoolwork elsewhere, such as the kitchen table. Their bedroom, and especially their bed, should only be used for sleep so that there is a strong association between their bedroom and rest.
Help them choose a supportive mattress that meets their needs. Keep an eye out for organic mattresses that use natural materials like cotton, wool, and natural latex. These are less likely to emit odors that may disturb a sensitive nose. Together, you can choose sheets, bedding, and accessories that are comfortable and inviting for them to sleep on.
Maintain a cool, quiet, and dark sleep environment for your children. Use a fan to keep the air cool and maintain white noise. Use blackout curtains if needed to block out light at night. Consider using a white noise machine if noises are disruptive to your child's sleep.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.