Drag

Select

Right arrow
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.

Top tips for a good night’s rest from a sleep expert

Kid

Parent

Teen

Sleep

Science

Tech Use

May 1, 2024

Getting enough sleep is essential to our physical and mental health. Sleep is pretty incredible. It allows our bodies and minds to recharge, supports our immune system, helps with emotional regulation, and boosts cognitive functionality. But as a parent myself, I know it’s not always easy to ensure that everyone in the family is getting the sleep they need to truly thrive. 

I’ve always found the topic of sleep to be fascinating! We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping, but researchers are still unraveling why our brains need shut-eye. That’s why I went on to study and obtain my doctorate degree in neuroscience, with a focus on sleep and the effects of sleep loss on our minds. I feel passionate about helping people get enough rest so that they can feel their best, so I’ve put together these top tips to help your family. 

How much sleep do we really need? 

Sleep is essential for learning, memory formation, emotional regulation, and physical and mental development. Sleep is especially critical for kids and teens as their brains and bodies are developing. And it turns out that they need A LOT of it! Here are sleep recommendations from the CDC for all ages: 

  • Newborn: 0–3 months, 14–17 hours of sleep 
  • Infant: 4–12 months, 12–16 hours of sleep 
  • Toddler: 1–2 years, 11–14 hours of sleep 
  • Preschool: 3–5 years, 10–13 hours of sleep 
  • 6 to 12 years: 9–12 hours of sleep 
  • 13 to 18 years: 8–10 hours of sleep 
  • 18 to 60 years: 7 or more hours of sleep
  • 61 to 64 years: 7 to 9 hours of sleep
  • 65 years and older: 7 to 8 hours of sleep

It’s important to note that most people’s sleep needs fall somewhere in the middle of the recommended ranges, and extended sleep is generally tied to cognitive and physical benefits! Although your teen may try to convince you that they only need seven hours of sleep, it is actually very rare that someone can function optimally on shorter durations of sleep.

While the quantity of sleep you get each day is important, we also want to make sure that we’re getting quality sleep.  Here are some signs of poor sleep quality: 

  • Repeatedly waking up during the night
  • Snoring, gasping for air, or tossing and turning
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble getting up in the morning or falling asleep
  • Changes in mood or appetite

Finally, the timing of our sleep is important to how we function when we’re awake! Our bodies are primed for sleep at particular times of the day, and the ideal timing of sleep differs by person and age. 

Trying to align your sleep habits with your own personal biological preference – and paying attention to your kids’ preferences – can make it easier to get a good night’s rest. It’s common for little kids to prefer early mornings, whereas teens tend to be “night owls.” 

Top healthy sleep habits for the whole family

  • Keep a consistent routine. Our bodies function best on a consistent sleep/wake schedule. Try to keep bedtime at the same time every night, even on the weekends, and try to wake up at a consistent time, too. Try forming a new pre-bed habit! Maybe it’s a quick journaling session, some tea, or a relaxing skin care routine – these practices can calm your mind before bed and they’ll help remind your body to prepare for sleep. Help your kids form a consistent bedtime routine including lots of calming bedtime activities (like a warm bath and reading books). Kids are creatures of habit, and having a routine will help them wind down.  
  • Create a sanctuary for sleep. Make sure the sleep environment is quiet, cool, and dark! Minimize distracting sounds by listening to white noise or soothing nature sounds. Focus on blocking out artificial and natural light by using blackout curtains and covering lights from electronics. My family is going through the challenge of night lights right now, as my toddler no longer feels safe and comfortable in a pitch-black sleep space. If you also have a kiddo who wants a night light, be sure to select a light in the warmer hues (cooler hues are known to affect melatonin). Also, the light should be as dim as possible and placed in a location away from the bed. If the sleep space is shared, like a dorm room or bedroom for multiple kids, try using an eye mask and ear plugs to create your own personal sleep sanctuary.  
  • Move your body. Regular physical activity and good sleep go hand-in-hand. An active day often means a restful night, so try to encourage the whole family to get moving when the sun is out. For the littles, try to avoid rigorous physical activity within two hours of bedtime since this might make it difficult to settle down. Be sure to think about the time of day you exercise, and how it affects your sleep. For some people, physical activity in the morning helps them wake up! For others, physical activity in the evening can make it easier to fall asleep at night. 
  • Get plenty of daytime natural light exposure. Light is the primary signal for our body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that regulates sleep and wake. Morning light exposure ensures that the circadian rhythm is regulated. Try a nature walk as a family or a trip to the park. You can also simply let lots of natural light into your family’s space! 
  • Build healthy tech use habits. Screen time in the evening can disrupt the release of melatonin, which is a critical hormone that primes the body and brain for sleep. Create boundaries around tech usage as a family and consider having “no-phone zones” in places like the dining room or in your child’s room at bedtime. Make sure to avoid screens at least two hours before bed to support the natural production of melatonin. Many modern electronics have built-in features (or compatible apps) that reduce blue light in the evening hours. Check your smartphones and tablets to see if you can change the settings to best support sleep! 
  • Wind down with mindfulness. Meditation, light stretching, or breathing exercises are a great way to ease into sleep. Guiding your child through some easy breathing exercises before bed can help to alleviate any night time anxieties, leaving both their body and mind feeling more at ease and ready for sleep. If your child is afraid of the dark or monsters under their bed, do your best to listen, validate, and empathize with their fears. They may not feel real to you, but chances are they feel very real to your child. Reassure them that you hear their fears and are there to keep them safe.

Extra tips for teens and young adults 

  • Keep a sleep journal so you can determine how best to support your sleep. Take note of bed and wake-up times, pre-bed activities, how you’re feeling when you wake up, and whether your sleep was restless. Gathering this information can help you identify the areas you can improve, plus what’s going well! There are also some apps and wearable devices that can help you monitor your sleep.
  • Get organized. Take some time to look at your daily schedule and to-do lists. Are you trying to pack too much into your days? Are you procrastinating on big tasks? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it could affect your ability to wind down at the end of the day. We know it’s not always possible, but try to prioritize important deadlines while also making space for relaxation. We live in a society that celebrates productivity, but remember that your rest and happiness matter the most. 
  • Limit late-night meals and midnight snacks. Eating close to bedtime can disrupt sleep, and our metabolism isn’t primed to handle lots of calories right before bed. Research also shows that we make poor food choices at night, so avoid reaching for the cookies and chips if you wake up hungry.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. While drinking alcohol at night might seem to make it easier to fall asleep, even small amounts of alcohol before bed can make it difficult to stay asleep.
  • A word on stimulants. Wake-promoting drugs (like nicotine and caffeine) should be avoided in the evening hours. If you’re like me, a cup of coffee is a must-have in the morning. Just make sure all caffeine consumption stops in the afternoon, or you might find yourself too awake for sleep at night. 
  • What about catch-up sleep? Life gets busy, and sometimes we just have to shorten our nighttime sleep. Catch-up sleep isn’t as beneficial overall as consistent nighttime sleep. However, if you need to recover from lost sleep, try to plan for an afternoon nap or extended sleep in the nights following. You can also prepare for sleep loss. If you have upcoming travel or an important nighttime event, “bank” sleep by planning a pre-event nap or by extending your sleep in preparation. 

If sleep continues to be a struggle for you or your family, consider reaching out to the team at Bend for guidance and support. We’re here for you!