In this blog, we chat with Clare Marcangelo about sleep hygiene and how it helps you get quality sleep. Clare is one of our amazing Healthy Mummy wellness experts and a Children’s Nutritionist.
You can hear more about this topic in her podcasts on the Healthy Mummy Wellness App.
Many of you may wonder what the term ‘sleep hygiene’ means. Whilst naturopaths and nutritionists are familiar with the concept, most of us would be scratching our heads.
In a nutshell, sleep hygiene is how we sleep and prepare for sleep – it’s pretty simple. Almost like a list you can tick off and a strategy that is so incredibly important to good quality sleep.
What is a good starting point to improve your sleep hygiene?
Many children can wake multiple times in the night, may take a long time to settle, or are very distressed at bedtime, and all these are issues in themselves.
Sleep hygiene is the first thing we can look at as parents to help our kids get quality sleep, as we have complete control over it.
In more detail, we need to look at what we do before bed. As adults, you hear a lot of talk in mainstream media about ‘winding down’ – having a cup of tea and avoiding using your phone an hour before bed.
For our children, studies show that not using a device or watching TV just before bed is essential. At least an hour of device-free time before bed is needed. This will help wind the body down for rest so that the brain can make melatonin rather than having stimulation from a big bright screen.
This may mean adapting the family’s routine to accommodate this key principle.
A calm environment
The next thing that may be linked to sleep hygiene and quality sleep is whether or not you’re creating a calm environment leading up to bed.
Little children need consistent visual and auditory cues to prepare for anything routine. This doesn’t really cease for teenagers if we’re being realistic!
So if the TV is blaring and we have bright lights on or you’re playing an exciting game just before bed, and you’re told to suddenly stop at bedtime, of course, it will take longer for the system to catch up and wind down.
If you begin modelling calm behaviour as a family before bed, it can only lead to good things, right down to us as parents being more relaxed at this crucial time.
As part of an ideal nighttime routine, an early nutritious meal would help. The earlier, the better, as this allows us to be calm rather than rushed – and we know this isn’t always possible!
But this earlier meal allows plenty of time to have a bath or shower, hop into PJs, brush teeth, and read a book. You can have a healthy nighttime snack, head into a calm room without a heap of toys and consider the temperature and light.
Make sure your child is comfortable
Are they comfy and snuggly? Many young children can’t articulate what may be annoying them, and it could be as simple as the doona being wonky or scratchy.
It’s easy to fall into a sleep hygiene routine when you’re so used to getting up, but you can always reset and start over.
Set a new scene and make the space exciting for them. Make a big deal of a new bedspread or night light. Even if your child is an exceptional reader, it’s still nice to be read to, and it makes a big difference to their bedtime routine. It’s bonding time and connection for you both, and it’s comforting.
And if we bring the conversation back to screen time before bed. It’s a good one to focus on, as a lot of research proves that this stimulates all the wrong types of hormones just before bed. This can send the wrong messages to the brain, and they have lower quality sleep.
Theoretically, it should be as simple as it becoming dark for the brain to make melatonin and for you to feel sleepy.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, we contend with devices that almost mimic the sun in terms of light, and our brain is getting confused and cross-wired with wrong messaging.
As adults, we’re more likely to be aware of this, but children rely on us controlling the exposure.
It’s difficult as it may seem that the devices have a calming effect – and often they do. Still, the issue is with the light and moving away from this before bed can make a world of difference to settling the body naturally without any aid and getting quality sleep.
Have family time before bed
So if you’ve been in the habit of watching TV with the family until bedtime – what can be some good sleep hygiene alternatives? The important thing is that the children don’t feel excluded from what’s happening and that you model the exercise as a family.
It can be as simple as saying, “Okay, let’s all have some family time before bed. I don’t want to be on my phone. I’d really love to sit and read a book with you. Or sit and chat about your day. If you see me on my phone, make sure you call me out on it.”
Make it so that you’re all accountable for the positive change, not just the children. And at the same time, you’re making a point of saying you want some special time with them. We all know our children and what would likely make them happy, so use this time to do an activity just for them.
They may like to draw; this is also a therapeutic or calming exercise to get some emotions or feelings out before bed to get quality sleep. And it really has a knock-on effect for the whole family as it drags a big blanket of calm over the household at the right time.
So in terms of sleep hygiene, you don’t need to overthink it or judge yourself too harshly. We’re all just trying our best but have your mental or physical checklist to tick off if you can, or even chip away at slowly one item at a time.
You might see the change with each new thing tackled, and the explanation will be most welcomed.
Model the behaviour before bed for your children, as they are wonderful sponges. Hopefully, you naturally set them up with healthy sleep routines before bed.
And any time saved getting those kids off to bed is time you get back for yourself of an evening. So well worth the investment!
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