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Dr. Daniel Amen’s 5 Steps to a Healthy Bedtime Routine for Your Child

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Sleep. Every child needs it. But is your child getting enough? And how do you ensure that your kids are getting the benefits of a good night’s rest?

We all know that getting a good night’s sleep is important. But, poor sleep does more than just make them tired the next day- it can affect their developing brains. . I often tell my patients and their parents that lack of sleep can trigger depression, attentional and learning problems, poor judgment and impulse control issues. Sleep is the primetime for growth hormones to be most effective in kids.

So, what exactly happens in the brain during sleep? I often explain that sleep helps the brain to clean itself. It helps the brain refresh and maintain itself so one can function. Without sleep many of our body systems can fail to function properly. The brain’s cleaning fluid system turns on during sleep. And it is essential that your child’s brain be allowed to have enough time to perform its cleansing ritual.

Here’s my breakdown of how many hours of sleep your child needs each night:

  • Infants: 12-18
  • Toddlers: 10-14
  • Preschoolers: up to 12
  • Elementary age: up to 11
  • Preteens and teens: up to 10

Bodies that have more growing to do need more sleep!

Often, a patient’s parent will tell me that getting the kids off to bed is like their worst nightmare. It can be the thing that drives a parent to the brink of insanity. I recommend taking the stress out of getting the kids ready for bed by first taking care of yourself with your favorite simple relaxing, calming techniques. You should work to calm yourself first. Simple deep breathing exercises can help. Breathe. You’ve got this!

Now, you’re calm and ready to tackle bedtime! Go into bedtime with a plan. Here are my 5 simple steps to creating a healthy bedtime routine for your family.

1. Set a bedtime and stick to it!

I strongly encourage you to set a firm bedtime to be observed on weeknights, weekends--- every day. Be consistent! Children respond best to a schedule that is consistent.

2. Create a bedtime routine and follow it every night.

Develop a simple daily bedtime routine that works for your family and use it every night. It can be as simple as brushing teeth then reading a bedtime story. Read a book, but for no more than 20 minutes--- not 2 hours! Do some calming activities as part of the routine in order to make transitioning to bedtime much easier. You can have your kids settle down an hour before bed with family prayers, or listen to soft music, or read guided imagery books like my new bedtime book, Time for Bed, Sleepyhead. Setting a routine takes time, so be patient but be firm with your rules.

3. Avoid Too Much Stimulation and Screen Time Before Bed.

I recommend avoiding overly stimulating activities before bed, like rough housing, listening to loud music, reading scary stories, and especially screen time on electronic devices. The blue light from gadget screens suppresses melatonin production. I recommend stopping kids’ screen time at least an hour before bed. Electronic screens also disrupt our circadian rhythm, making it hard for us to fall asleep. If you’re wondering what to do to help your child unwind without a screen before bed, I’d suggest a little light reading from a traditional book, listening to soft music, saying bedtime prayers or loving kindness meditation together, or even singing some favorite quiet lullabies. You might also find that this is a great opportunity for soothing hugs and cuddles.

4. Bedtime is Not a Good Snack Time

I often advise against heavy snacks or lots of pre-bedtime drinks because these will likely have kids waking up in the middle of the night and can actually keep them from falling asleep. If you want to give a pre-bedtime drink, a small glass of warm milk with a teaspoon of vanilla and natural stevia can help promote sleep.

5. Sleep Environment Matters

Lastly, I strongly recommend avoiding anything that might overstimulate rather than relax children, such as sending them off to bed with tablets and electronic devices in hand, leaving the TV on for them, allowing too much noise in or near their room, making their rooms too warm, or leaving the room filled with light during bedtime. A dark, quiet, comfortable space is ideal for the kind of sleep that will nourish your child’s developing brain.

Following these simple steps will help you and your family get the sleep that you need. Good sleep is crucial for your children’s growth and development. Just think of all they can do, after a great night of sleep! (And how happy you’ll be when they don’t wake up cranky!)

About Dr. Daniel Amen:

Daniel Amen: The Washington Post called Daniel Amen, MD the most popular psychiatrist in America and Sharecare named him the web’s #1 most influential expert and advocate on mental health. Dr. Amen is a physician, double board certified psychiatrist, television producer and ten-time New York Times bestselling author of The Daniel Plan and Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. He is the Founder of Amen Clinics in Costa Mesa and San Francisco, California, Bellevue, Washington, Reston, Virginia, Atlanta, Georgia and New York, New York. Dr. Amen’s new guided imagery children’s bedtime book, Time for Bed, Sleepyhead.

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