Trouble falling asleep?
A good night’s sleep is important at every age. Sleep, or lack thereof, impacts many areas of health, including weight management and one’s body mass index (BMI). In fact, research published in the journal Sleep showed that regular, age-appropriate bedtimes and getting a sufficient amount of sleep each night in early childhood could play an important role in developing a healthy weight and sleep patterns in adolescence.
Researchers at Penn State looked at urban households across the U.S. to determine how sleep patterns in young children affected them later in life. They found that one-third of children ages 5 through 9 in the study consistently maintained an age-appropriate bedtime, and that those who did not develop a bedtime routine by age 9 reported shorter sleep duration and a higher BMI at age 15.
“Sleep problems have been associated with increased appetite and altered metabolism, so it is not surprising that insufficient sleep would be linked to elevated BMI,” says Dr. Darius Loghmanee, a pediatric sleep specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Still, while Dr. Loghmanee finds the study interesting, he feels there were a few points the study did not address. Self-reported BMI information, like that used in the study, isn’t always accurate, which can impact data, he says. Additionally, because there is significant variability in sleep patterns and practices among individuals and cultures, he says it’s not always beneficial to make broad assertions about what is necessary for optimal sleep health. Finally, the study uses bedtime routines and bedtime interchangeably, he explains. However, the two refer to different things.
“A bedtime routine is the sequence of events prior to bedtime. Bedtime is just that – the time children get into bed,” says Dr. Loghmanee. “Having a consistent bedtime does not mean that you have a good bedtime routine.”
Still, Dr. Loghmanee says he’s always eager to see studies that explore the ways optimizing sleep might improve health. He hopes that sleep practitioners like himself can help people engage in conversations with friends, families and neighbors about the importance of sleep and encourage individuals to optimize sleep patterns in their own environments.
“Without advancing this process, we will not be able to influence the cultural shift required to improve sleep across all ages in our society,” says Dr. Loghmanee.
He has seen children with good bedtimes end up sleeping poorly as adolescents and vice versa. Many factors, not only bedtime and bedtime routines, can impact sleep quality. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to catching quality zzzs, but he tells caregivers that it’s never too early or too late to pay attention to how a child is sleeping and think about ways to improve their sleep health.
Follow these tips to start creating a consistent bedtime routine for your kids:
- Establish transition activities: Establish a short series of activities just prior to bedtime that help children transition from their last activities of the day to bedtime. “This routine should be performed close to when the child shows signs of sleepiness,” says Dr. Loghmanee. “Once the routine is established, it can be advanced slowly to extend the total sleep time.”
- Create a sleep-inducing environment: Create a sleep environment that the child associates with feeling drowsy and relaxed. Initially, this might require a parent helping them wind down, but as you give them progressively longer periods of time alone, always coming back before they fall asleep and praising children for being relaxed in their beds, the environment itself will gradually become all that is needed to help children feel comfortable enough to fall asleep.
- Avoid telling them to “go to sleep”. Dr. Loghmanee says to refrain from telling children to go to sleep, as falling asleep is not something they can control. “If they are relaxed, happy and sleepy in their sleep environment, your work is done,” he says.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.