It is one of the most basic needs that all humans and animals incorporate into their daily routine. It is something that is as basic as drinking water, yet our schedules rarely allow for adequate amounts of it. We understand the need for it, but it is not ranked high on the importance-list for many. Difficulty sleeping, inconsistent bedtimes, and hitting the pillow late because of other life variables are common trends clinicians frequently see. This is one of the basics I try to review with my clients in private practice, and the crisis walk-in clinic. Our bodies must have the basic needs covered before higher and more executive functioning can be executed (read up on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Difficulty with behavior at school or focusing at 3 PM at work? How is your sleep? What is your pre-sleep routine? I’m going to make a case for sleep today, just try to stay awake for it.
Babies’ circadian rhythm does not fully develop until they are approximately 6 months old. This is why newborns are unable to understand mom’s desire to count some sheep after the sun goes down. We often coach newborns and young children the necessity of following the circadian rhythm by implementing a bedtime routine. The baby’s brain starts noticing the consistent cues of the environment; there is less light from the sun, there’s pre-bed bath time, the temperature in the room is cooler so a blanket is given, and a story is read. If this routine is conducted consistently enough, the baby’s body starts activating the self-soothing center in the brain, and she gets drowsy as she is being put into PJ’s before the story is read. Routines allow our bodies to wind down, prepare for sleep and start moving away from activating the executive functioning areas in our brain.
During sleep the brain is able to do things it cannot while awake because external stimuli is finally paused and the brain heals itself, consolidates the day’s happenings, moves experiences to the memory area of the brain, and most importantly grows. Not only does the brain reap benefits, but the body does too. Cells and bones are regenerated and repaired, metabolic functioning is able to re-balance, and our body finally gets to rest. Studies have been conducted for decades, and all indicate the same thing - sleep helps improve mental health, performance at work and school, and the well-rested are more capable of handling negative experiences and experiencing lower levels of stress. The amounts of sleep needed for children differ significantly from infants to 18 year olds. To get a better understanding of appropriate amounts to allow the body and mind of your child to grow, reference this link to the American Academy of Pediatrics suggestions table (below).
So now we’ve been reminded of why sleep is important, and I want to circle back to the newborn’s routine mentioned earlier. This routine is called a sleep hygiene routine, and there is no age limit for implementing this daily. One of the main reasons is because of consistency, and it allows our bodies to tap back into the learned importance of giving ourselves the ability to wind down, slowly ease the mind into relaxation, and let the mind and body rest. Some professionals recommend this routine be started approximately an hour and a half before desired sleep time. One of the most important elements to this routine that I cannot stress enough to my clients is that this routine completely limits screen time. No TV; no laptop; no iPad; no phone screen. It may seem like a scary Halloween prank I am pulling here, but the screens stimulate the areas in the brain that need to wind down for fully reparative rest. Some other suggestions that can help create an ideal sleep-mosphere are cooler temperatures, winding down with a warm shower or bath, reading, having soothing noises (such as a noise machine or your favorite natural element CD playing in the background), and lowering the room’s lights. While these are all suggestions that work for some, they don’t necessarily work for all, and each routine should be tailored to the needs and preferences of each person.
Maybe as this school year is in it’s early stages, the whole family can try implementing a sleep hygiene plan. Remember, they are as unique to each person and family as your pajama preference, so get creative and listen to the suggestions (as appropriate) of your little ones. Below is a PDF of additional tips to try. If you have any suggestions or favorites for you or your family we would love to hear. E-mail me tips or elements of your plan that work for you at Jordan.Huber@birchpsychology.com and I can compile them for other individuals and families to try!
Jordan Huber, M.A. | Birch Psychology
Maslow's Heirachy of Needs: