Improve Your Child’s Sleep Quality

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The excitement of the holidays can make it tough for a lot of us to fall asleep at night, especially for children, and even more so if your plans include travel near or far. We asked experts for their best advice on helping kids get a better night’s sleep, even when seasonal chaos strikes.

Be proactive. 

If you know you’ll be traveling to another time zone, start to get your child used to the changes before you go. Start by pushing sleep time forward or back a few minutes a day, as needed, advises Dr. Shalini Manchanda, a sleep specialist with IU Health. “You don’t have to make the whole time zone switch, but a few minutes in the right direction can have an impact.”

Build in downtime. 

Whether you’re sightseeing around a new area or simply spending time heading from one relative to the next, it can be easy for your child to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. If your child still naps, make sure you set aside a reasonable amount of time for her to catch her Zs. But even older children just need a chance to hang out and relax, says Dr. Michael P. McKenna, a pediatrician with Riley at IU Health. “The problem comes when you try to stack up too many activities without giving kids a chance to recharge,” he notes. “The more help you can give them, the better behaved they’ll be and the better they will feel.”   

Bring some comforts of home.

If your child is old enough, allow him to pick a couple of items to take with you on your trip, whether it’s a teddy bear, a favorite blanket or a book of bedtime stories. “You can’t take everything with you, but try to incorporate as much of your home routine as you can,” adds Dr. McKenna. This sense of comfort makes it easier for your child to drift off, even in an unfamiliar environment.

Unplug the bedroom. 

Make sure your children (and you!) shut down your cell phone, tablets, computers, TVs and other devices at least an hour before bedtime. Not only can the blue light emitted from these devices interfere with the body’s natural sleep rhythms, seeing something scary or exciting can also make it difficult to fall asleep.

Go decaf. 

Any caffeine consumption during the day can affect sleep. And caffeine can be found in some surprising sources, from soda and teas to chocolate and energy bars. Read labels carefully and minimize caffeine intake, even among older children.

How Much Sleep Should My Kid Be Getting?

  • Ages 3-5: 11-13 hours. Children at this age often have a difficult time falling asleep, as well as more nightmares. Guard against these problems by sending them to bed early enough to iron things out.
  • Ages 6-18: 10-11 hours. Although this is a large group range of ages to pull out a general recommendation, keep in mind that school-aged children need at least 10 hours a night to stay healthy. Too little sleep can lead to mood swings as well as behavioral and cognitive problems.  

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