Boost Kids’ Learning and Health with Solid Sleep Routines

Boost Kids’ Learning and Health with Solid Sleep Routines

If you’ve been following the KITS blog, you probably know that we are strong supporters of solid morning and bedtime routines to help children and families be ready for school and primed for learning. One of the reasons that healthy bedtime routines are so important is that sleep helps children learn, no matter where that learning is taking place! So this month we are going to take a deeper look at the ways in which healthy sleep patterns can positively impact our lives and how parents can help set up healthy sleep routines for their kids and themselves.

The “Why” of Healthy Sleep Routines

Science is continually providing new clues about the benefits of sleep for both our minds and our bodies. We know that regular sleep enhances children’s brain development, allows us do our best learning and work, boosts our immune system, and improves our ability to regulate stress and emotions (think resilience).

We also know that stress levels are really high right now, for just about everyone. Parents are feeling the stress and fatigue of helping children navigate remote learning while managing the household, often balancing their own outside work. The realities of working both inside and outside the home certainly carry their own unique challenges for parents during the pandemic.

Parents are telling us that kids are spending unexpectedly long periods of time working on school-related activities. Add their favorite screen-based brain break activity to the mix and there can be precious little time left for sleep. The question is: how can parents support strong sleep habits in ways that don’t ADD to the heightened levels of stress that all of us are experiencing right now?

The good news is that with a little bit of preparation and a few tips and tricks, you can get on the path to establishing helpful routines for bedtime as well as those moments when your child just can’t sleep. This week we are going to talk about how to begin to set up sleep routines for kids (and yourself). Next week we’ll break down how to help your kids learn and practice those routines and the week after that we will talk about how to troubleshoot issues that might pop up in setting up sleep routines and trying to stick to them.

Setting Up Healthy Sleep Routines for Kids

As you’ve probably noticed, KITS is a big fan of setting up solid routines: bedtime routines, morning routines, you name it. Children, and let’s face it, adults too, thrive on routine. This is especially important during these times of uncertainty. Today we are going to offer some tips on how to begin to set up a healthy routine for your kids.

Pencil it in – If you’re like me, nothing gets done unless it’s on my calendar. What day are you going to start this new routine? What time will you begin getting your child ready for bed? What time do the lights go out? Put it on your calendar, set a reminder on your phone, tell Alexa to remind you…do what you need to do to make it possible to follow through with your sleep solution intentions.

Write it out – To help your kids (and yourself) remember a routine, it can be helpful to write the main steps down where everyone can see them. This is especially helpful for younger kids and for pre-readers, you can even use pictures.  The simpler and more direct, the better. So if you want your child to get ready for bed by brushing her teeth, putting on her pajamas, and getting her favorite stuffed animal, you would write down these steps.

Dock your devicesDoctors recommend keeping devices out of children’s room, limiting their use during the day, and turning them off completely one hour before bedtime. This can be a part of your bedtime routine. I confess, my partner and I even do this for ourselves.

Choose some soothing sleep tools – There are many different relaxation techniques, some new, and some that have been used for centuries to help people relax and promote good sleep. I have complied a list of techniques and resources from around the web based on recommendations from our KITS friends about what works well to encourage sleep in their own families. Choose what resonates with you and your unique children. After practicing with your children and teaching them to do these exercises on their own, you may all find yourselves using them to help you feel calmer throughout the day or in moments of difficulty.

Talk to your brain

        • Get comfy in your bed and let your brain know that it is time to say goodnight. It might seem silly, but your brain controls your body and YOU control your brain. If your mind is extra busy, give it permission to relax and take a break. “Ok brain, it is time for sleep. You have been working hard and now you can rest.”

Breathing Techniques

        • 4-7-8 Breaths – I find this technique works wonders when I notice my mind racing when I “should” be sleeping. Some claim that this style of breathing is guaranteed to put you to sleep in just a few minutes!
            • Slowly let out all of your air. Then, take in a deep breath for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and release it slowly for a count of 8. It is that simple.
        • Square breathing – If 4-7-8 breaths are simple, square breathing is even simpler! I’m including it here because it is my 12-year-old daughter’s preference in sleepy-time breathing techniques.
            • Again, start by slowly breathing out all of your air. Then take a deep breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, release your breath for a count of 4, and hold your breath for a count of 4. Repeat until you are carried off into dreamland.

Guided Imagery Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

 Remember as you are thinking about a routine that there is no “perfect” sleep plan. Different things will work for different families. So choose what you think is right for your family. You can always tweak it as you practice it with your kids. Once you have a plan for the routine, the next step will be to introduce it to your kids and help them to practice it. We’ll cover that next week.  Until then, have fun exploring the different soothing techniques and thinking about how you want your children’s sleep routine to look.

Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2021

Image: © Mauricio Jordan De Souza Coelho | Dreamstime.com

Laura Wilson
Laura has been with the KITS Program for many years. She has worked as an assessor for our research projects and as an interpreter in our parent groups. She is currently helping in the cultural adaptation of KITS for Spanish speakers.

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