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At my child’s K-3 school, many families are struggling with helping their children get to sleep. I teach classroom meetings on Monday afternoons and teacher Kate and I decided to tackle this big challenge. Most specifically, kids are having a hard time winding down from their day and/or waking up at random times and being unable to fall back asleep. Interestingly, or perhaps not so interestingly, this was the number one challenge brought up by middle school students from the same school during a needs assessment. This leads me to believe that sleep education should happen in the younger years.

We had a great lesson focused on the good and not-so-good sleep habits. I filled one paper bag with things that may be considered bad sleep habits. In my bag was a big chocolate bar, a coke, a cell phone, and a few other things. In the good sleep habit bag, I placed a variety of items such as Sleepy Time tea, a washcloth, some nuts, a yoga mat etc.

To go along with this lesson, I wanted to give parents some general tips on sleep health and thought I’d make this available for others. Most of these tips come from Swedish Hospital sleep clinic (http://www.swedish.org/services/sleep-medicine) which has excellent resources.

TIP ONE-KEEP ON SCHEDULE: Now if you are an unscheduled type (like me) or have a split family or it just isn’t reasonable to have the same bedtime/wake up schedule all the time, don’t beat yourself up. But do try to keep bedtime and wake up time as stable as possible.

TIP TWO-ESTABLISH BEDTIME RITUALS: Recently I developed the habit of doing a crossword puzzle before bed. I NEVER get through the puzzle, my body becomes instantly sleepy. This is especially important if you are not so good at keeping on schedule. The ritual will be communicating to your child’s brain that it is time to sleep. Some rituals you may consider are as follows:

Having a healthy snack like nuts or a banana
Take a warm bath
Drink a cup of herbal tea
Do some yoga stretches together
Sing a special song
Say a prayer
Put the stuffies to bed
Talk about the best and worst part of the day
The list is endless!

Here is my daughter’s bedtime ritual. First, we do a group hug (if both my husband and I are home). We have all kind-of versions of hugs–the ballet hug where we curtsy, the bear hug, the silly hug and so on. Then one or the other of us goes upstairs with her. She brushes her teeth, goes to the bathroom and feeds her fish. Then we read two chapters aloud of whatever book she chooses. I let her have the light on for the first chapter and sometimes she wanders around her room putting her stuffed animals to bed or building something with her blocks. For the second chapter, she comes into bed. We also turn off the overhead light. I then kiss and hug her goodnight and the ritual is over.

TIP THREE-HAVE A DOCKING STATION AWAY FROM BEDROOMS: Get in the habit NOW-there are no electronics in the bedroom. You want this one to be a given, especially as they grow older. There are a bunch of reasons for this, one being the bright lights messing with sleep rhythms, the other is that they will use it more if it is near them (and, um, parents—that goes for us too), also they can get exposed to things right before bed that are scary or non-peaceful. I would even go so far as to suggest that you use an alternative device for audio tapes so that you really do get the phone out of the room.

TIP FOUR-READ BORING BOOKS: I must self-disclose that we don’t follow this one. In fact, Harry Potter book seven was just finished yesterday while in bed. But I do get the point. The idea is to wind down, not rev up. So for the next book, I may suggest something a little less adventuresome. I do try to read in a fairly monotone voice (which is nearly impossible in the Harry Potter series) and save my more dramatic tones for the day.

TIP FIVE-BUILD A NEST: Consider having a cozy nook for reading. That way, the bed becomes associated with sleeping.

TIP SIX-MAKE SOME WORRY STONES: Collect some special stones and shells. Find a nice box or pouch for them. Let the stones do the worrying or talk to your child about the worries well before bedtime. In the classroom we also made dream snow globes. Just take a mason jar, add some star beads, glitter, and water. Shake it up and watch it swirl–much better than counting sheep.

TIP SEVEN-IF SLEEP DOESN’T COME: Don’t force it. Get up (or tell your child to get up). Do an activity in the dim light for fifteen minutes and try again. Sitting in bed, unable to sleep and looking at the minutes ticking on the clock is not sleep inducing. Try to have some activities available for your child that are peaceful and calm. This would not be a time to turn on an audiobook. One great choice is a coloring book with patterns. There is something about patterns that causes our mind to relax.

TIP 8-PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION: Go through your various body parts, tighten them up and then relax.

TIP 9-ANALYZE THE SLEEPING CONDITIONS. Is it too hot or too cold, too light or too dark?

It is interesting that unlike sleep training for an infant where there are a thousand different opinions and methods, most of the advice on going to sleep is the same. There isn’t a lot of variation and from what I can see the advice is well-researched. I hope these tips help your child (and you) catch some Z’s.

For further reading:
What to Do When You Dread Your Bed by Dawn Huebner
What to do When You Worry too Much by Dawn Huebner
The Worry Stone by Marianna Dengler