One of the biggest surprises I had as a new parent was the amount of time I focused on sleep – and not just how little I was getting myself. No, it turns out training a tiny human who has no reasoning skills to sleep at night is one of the hardest jobs on earth.
I often joked that any high-stakes deal or make-or-break presentation from my professional life was a cake-walk compared to sleep-training a baby. But I understood how incredibly important sleep was to my developing infant, so I read numerous books, tried different strategies and finally cracked the code on getting our babies to sleep through the night.
While our family is long out of the baby stage, I keep being confronted with this truth: sleep is monumentally important for our kids.
I recently finished reading The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax (a book I highly recommend to every parent) and I was taken aback by how often sleep was mentioned. The book is not about sleep, but instead confronts numerous parenting concerns of our day like ADHD, childhood obesity, disrespectfulness and emotional fragility. Sax discusses how sleep (or lack of sleep) effects some of our biggest parenting issues.
To be honest, I almost didn’t write this post because sleep is so… basic. And boring. However, what if making a few simple changes makes a big difference in your family? After all, God designed the human body to need sleep. We require a reboot, a time of rejuvenation and restoration.
Conversely, sleep deprivation is often the foundational ingredient in emotional and physical imbalance. What if tired, boring – yet fundamental – old sleep is the key to your greatest parenting struggle?
How much sleep do our kids need?
According to the National Institute on Health, these are the sleep recommendations for children:
• Preschool and kindergarten, age 2 to 5: At least 11 hours a night
• Elementary and middle school, age 6 to 12: At least 10 hours a night
• Teenagers, age 13 to 18: At least 9 hours a night
Creating a quality sleep environment for growing kids
Not only should we make sure our kids are in bed for the recommended hours of sleep, but parents need to look at factors that make falling or staying asleep difficult. Sleep scientists recommend the following:
• Sleep in a room that is as dark as possible. Any light disrupts melatonin release and therefore makes it harder to fall asleep. Look for even small lights on alarm clocks and smoke detectors and cover them. All TVs and smartphone screens should be off. Blue light from iPads and smartphones stimulate the brain, so even using these devices before bed can disrupt sleep. If street lights pose an issue, use blackout curtains on bedroom windows.
• Set a consistent bedtime and wake time. Sleep rhythms are important and when there is consistency, the body more easily adheres to the pattern.
• Introduce a calming bedtime routine that doesn’t include screens. Healthier calming suggestions include a warm bath, reading or classical music.
• No caffeine past 2 p.m. Since the effects of caffeine can stay in the body for six hours, it’s best to limit consumption to morning or midday or cut it out altogether.
• Keep temperature between 62-68 degrees with warm bedding. A room that is too hot or too cold can undermine valuable REM sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation warns, “Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and cognitive problems that impact children’s ability to learn in school.”
Getting the recommended hours of sleep has been difficult since the advent of the lightbulb, but it’s becoming even more elusive with homework, sports, after-school activities, computers, TVs, mobile devices, and hectic family schedules. That said, parents should place a premium on sleep and prioritize it for the health and well-being of their children.
While I’ve focused on children and sleep, this information is important for adults, too. I confess that getting enough sleep is a struggle for me. After the kids go to bed I start doing all the things I didn’t/couldn’t do while they were awake. But, I’ve noticed my physical and emotional health often reflect the priority I’ve given sleep and I’ve resolved to hit the hay earlier.
Yes, a post about sleeping can be a bit of a yawn. However, sleep is a fundamental building block in all other aspects of a healthy life – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Sleep is not just something our weary bodies fall into. We must approach this life requirement the way we approach food and worship – with intentionality and focus.
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28