When we talk about sleep problems in families, the conversation often centers around the needs of the family’s youngest members when, in fact, sleep deprivation can be a major problem for parents as well. Even the most compassionate moms and dads can find themselves at wits’ end with their little ones when they are caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of bad days and worse nights. It may be a challenge, but developing healthy sleep habits for the whole family can have positive effects that will last a lifetime.
Until around five, children need at least twelve hours of sleep, and when they don’t get it, the effects can be devastating. In a young child, a lack of sleep can be the catalyst for tantrums, feeding problems, cognitive impairment, memory issues, and, some researchers theorize, may even be a precursor for ADHD. By the time elementary school rolls around, children need an average of ten hours per night and teens need just over eight. However, sleep deprivation remains a very real issue for older children as well, with consequences like mood swings, anxiety, and poor performance in school.
Parents often bear the brunt of their family’s sleep deprivation, spending their days having to wrangle grumpy children while in a fog of exhaustion. The impact of too many sleepless nights can potentially result in everything from mood disorders to heart disease and obesity. It may seem that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to solve the family’s sleep problems, but a few easy tips may help get you back on the right track.
Take some down time before hitting the sack: Having a routine before bed can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Whether you read a book or do a few yoga poses, a relaxing ritual every evening before your head hits the pillow can make a big difference.
Keep other activities out of the bedroom: If your family loves to eat, play, or watch TV in bed, now’s the time to break yourselves of that bad habit. Make your bed a sacred space for sleeping and you’ll have an easier time turning in at night.
Implement a “no screens before sleep” policy for everyone: A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that reading on your phone, tablet, or computer within an hour or two of bedtime might actually be the reason you’re having difficulty drifting off. So avoid those glowing electronics before you go to sleep.
You can’t be your best self when you’re exhausted. Taking a few simple steps now can help you, and your family, look forward to a happier, healthier, and better-rested future.