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kids sleep routine: mom with daughter in bed

5 Expert Tips To Improve Your Kid’s Sleep Routine

When it comes to children, sleep seems like a constant battle. It might get better as the years go on, but it never seems to become a complete non-issue—and it can be an incredibly stressful situation throughout the school year, when there are busses to catch and days feel jam-packed.

“Sleep nourishes the body just like food and is essential for optimal function of the body and brain,” says integrative pediatric neurologist Maya Shetreat, M.D., author of The Dirt Cure: Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child. “When a child doesn’t sleep, they’re more prone to stress and are more likely to be hyperactive, aggressive, depressed, anxious, make poor decisions, or simply be moody, irritable, or tired.”

To help keep kids on track with healthy sleep, most pediatricians advise sticking to a sleep routine that involves consistent bedtime rituals and sleep and wake times. “Sleep routines not only help kids wind down at the end of the day and sleep more soundly, but they’re also an important part of waking up and being ready for the day,” notes Shetreat. (And let’s be honest, they’re also important for exhausted parents who need their own time to relax at the end of the day.)

FYI: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preschool-aged children require 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night, school-age children require 9 to 12 hours, and teens require 8 to 10 hours. 

Though complete consistency can be a challenge, the following expert tips can help your child establish a healthy sleep routine.

1. Maintain a healthy daytime routine

It may sound unrelated, but having a good daytime routine can help ensure your kid’s nighttime routine goes smoothly, according to Shetreat. 

Your first order of business: Wake your children up at the same time each day (yes, even on the weekends!) so that they get into a consistent rhythm and are tired at the same time each night, she says.

Read More: 8 High-Protein Snacks Nutritionists Love

Otherwise, try to maintain consistent snack and meal times throughout the day—and give your little one(s) plenty of opportunities to nourish themselves with healthy eats. (Giving them their own reusable water bottle to keep handy is great, too.) “This way, they’re less likely to fill up on fluids and calories right before bed, which can disrupt sleep,” says Shetreat. If possible, avoid any sipping or munching in the hour or two before starting your kiddo’s bedtime routine.

2. Make sure they have opportunities to move

Just like adults, children simply function better when exercise is a part of their daily routine, notes Shetreat. Research backs this up: After analyzing active and sedentary children, one study published in the journal PLoS One found that for every hour that a child was sedentary during the day, it took them an extra three minutes to fall asleep.  

Whether it’s running around in the backyard for 20 minutes or playing on a sports team, it’s a must that children have the opportunity to get moving every single day. “This can help dissipate nervous or pent-up energy that could keep them up at night,” Shetreat explains.

3. Minimize caffeine and sugar

Your child might not be sipping on a cup of Joe alongside you every morning, but plenty of the foods and beverages they consume may contain caffeine, which can ultimately wreak havoc on your kid’s sleep routine. A few common examples: iced teas, sodas, chocolate, and ice cream. 

“Caffeine’s effects can actually last well into the night, so even when kids consume it as early as lunchtime, the stimulant properties can affect their sleep initiation and quality,” says Shetreat.

Another potential problem for your kiddo’s shut-eye? Sugar. “Sugar, too, can lead to kids being more easily roused from sleep, exhibit greater restlessness during sleep, and actually stimulate more cravings for sugar the next day as a result,” Shetreat says.

Read More: 10 Foods That Pack More Added Sugar Than You Should Have All Day

If sleep has been a struggle for your little one, try to minimize any caffeinated foods or beverages throughout the day—and limit sugar (particularly added sugar, as you’ll find in baked goods and packaged snacks) in the evening.

4. Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed

Adults, you’ve heard this advice plenty of times—and it’s equally important for your children. “The light from electronics can really disrupt children’s sleep cycles and their ability to fall asleep,” warns Gina Posner, M.D., a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California. For this reason, she recommends shutting off all screens—TVs, iPads, smartphones, etc.—an hour before bedtime. 

“The hour before bed should be used for reading a book, showering, listening to music, and talking to family,” adds Posner. (More on that next.)

5. Establish a peaceful nighttime ritual

Since kids might resist going screen-free before bed (especially as they get older), it’s important to create some sort of relaxing bedtime activity or ritual that they actually look forward to. 

Not sure where to start? “Whether it’s a warm bath, a bedtime story, a gratitude practice, a mug of chamomile tea, or a drop of lavender essential oil on the pillow, a reliable bedtime ritual sets the nervous system at ease and helps kids feel safe and relaxed when they climb into bed,” says Shetreat. 

Otherwise, do your best to avoid anything stressful that could prevent your kid from nodding off easily when this time rolls around. “Try not to initiate any stressful conversations before bed, as it’s likely to stimulate the sympathetic, “fight or flight” nervous system, increase stress hormones like cortisol, and lead to insomnia or poor sleep,” Shetreat explains.  

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