Last week I published my Good Sleep Manifesto. This week, I’ve put together a list of ways to sleep better for your family. Think of them of rules of thumb, and not absolute.
Good Sleep Rules for everyone
- No electronics in the bedroom. No TVs, phones, tablets, laptops, or game consoles Electronics are absolutely corrosive to a good night of sleep.
- Bedrooms should be cool, quiet, and dark.
- You need to allow enough time between bedtime and wake time (what those of us in the business call a sleep opportunity. (Want to know if you are getting enough sleep? If you get enough sleep you wake up on your own. Same is true for your kids. For more info, you can read about suggested sleep durations here.). If your sleep opportunity is too short, bedtime needs to be earlier or wake time later. Or both. Teenagers are a special case I will address below.
- PARENTS: Believe it or not, children pay attention to what you are doing. If you stay up late on your phone, they will want to do this. If you don’t make sleep a priority, they won’t either. Be a leader.
- If whatever you are doing is working well and everyone is well rested in the morning (parents, children, your pet chinchilla) you can ignore everything on this list.
- Snoring is not necessarily benign. It can represent obstructive sleep apnea. Discuss it with your child’s pediatrician.
Good Sleep Rules for ages 0-5 years of age
- Many healthy kids can sleep through the night by six months of age. Most should by nine months.
- Naps are hard in the first year even (or especially) if your kid sleeps well at night.
- It’s important that kids and parents both sleep well at night, for health, safety, and general life enjoyment. Don’t feel guilty about this.
- After a year of age: If you kid wakes up at night once a week, it’s annoying. Once a night, it’s a problem. More than once a night, it’s a big problem.
- Babies need to learn to take a bottle once in a while (given by Dad or the non-nursing partner) to give breastfeeding moms a break at night. If you want to avoid formula, expressed breast milk is fine.
- If there are two parents in the home, both need to be capable of putting the children to bed, not just Mom. If they “won’t go down for Dad” (and it’s always Dad), Mom needs to take a trip for several days. The children (and Dad) will survive, I promise.
- Put off switching your kid from a crib to a bed until age three if you can. If you are having another child before then, just get another crib, or have the baby sleep in a bassinet. Trust me. The only exception is if your child is jumping out of his crib. Then you don’t have a choice.
- Don’t bed share in the first year of life. You can’t smother your baby if you are not sleeping in with them. I know that I will take some heat from “safe” cosleeping advocates, but the risk of smothering your child is zero if your child is sleeping in a safe sleep environment, and somewhat more than zero if you are bedsharing.
- Respect the nap. I know it’s inconvenient. Trust me. Everyone will be happier if your child gets a good nap.
Good Sleep Rules for School Age Children (ages 5-12)
- Monitor your children’s activity and homework. Neither should compromise your child’s ability to consistently get enough sleep. Don’t be afraid to tell you child’s teacher that the homework is excessive, or that you are going to opt out altogether.
- Your kids aren’t too old to be read to at night, even if only for a few minutes.
- If you need to wake your child on school mornings, that is a problem. They are either not getting enough sleep, or they may have a medical problem with their sleep. Talk to your doctor.
- Most kids past age 5-6 should not need a regular nap (with rare exceptions). If your child still needs a nap into first grade, it’s worth looking into.
Good Sleep Rules for Teenagers (13-19)
- Teenagers have a natural drive to stay up later and get up later. This does not mean that they are lazy. Your average teenager’s body clock is set to fall asleep between 11 PM-12 AM and wake up 9 hours later.
- Unfortunately, in most communities, high school starts way too early. (In my community it is 7:25 AM). Thus, the best way to improve the sleep of teenagers is to move the school start times later. This is unfortunately hard to do.
- Teenagers also need to be the custodians of their sleep. Here are some good rules of thumb for them:
- Be aware of the corrosive effect of your smartphone on your sleep. Keep it out of your room at night, and use an alarm clock.
- Use technology to minimize light exposure if you are, say, writing a paper at night.
- Don’t let your bedtime and wake time move more than 2 hours later on weekends on vacation. If you move more than that, you basically will be jet lagged all the time— meaning that you will feel like you never are on the right schedule.
- It’s best to avoid napping if you can because it will make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. If you must nap, limit it to 20-30 minutes as early in the afternoon as possible. Try to nap someplace besides your bed so you don’t accidently sleep for 2-3 hours. Putting your head down on a desk in the library can be good. (Trust me, I did this a lot in medical school).
- Recognize that caffeine intake after 2-3 PM can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
Anything you disagree with? Anything you would add? Let me know in the comments below.