In a world where we are constantly on the move, it can be difficult to settle down at night and get the sleep that you need, and even more difficult to get kids and teens to sleep enough. The CDC estimates that about 30-40% of adults aren't getting enough sleep, and other sources report that around 90% of high-schoolers are chronically sleep-deprived.
Even young children are becoming sleep deprived almost to the same extent as adults. If your family suffers from consistent sleep troubles, it might be time to examine what is affecting the sleep of your loved ones.
Given the extensive side effects of poor sleep for childhood development and adult health, getting quality rest is an important part of the family dynamic. Many of sleep deficits are a result of mentally devaluing rest or practicing poor sleep hygiene.
The good news is that many of these are factors that you can change at home, without medicines or drastic measures. Here are few totally natural ways you can improve sleep for both yourself and your family.
Focus on Family Time
Families are spending less and less time together. For many of us though, talking about the day and processing daily events together can help us feel better and more peaceful. Stress is a major factor in sleep deprivation. It can keep you and your family from sleeping well. Talking about things that are on your mind with others and encouraging kids to chat can be better than everyone ruminating over thoughts in bed alone.
Bring everyone in your family together daily and try to encourage everyone to participate and relax. This could be during your dinner routine, or even part of a pre-bed routine. If your child, partner or yourself is particularly worked up, try some breathing exercises or light stretching. Breathing exercises can calm down the mind and body, making them perfect to do before bed.
Eat a Light, Healthy Dinner
A perfect way to have some quality time together with your family is at dinner. Having a family dinner not only opens communication, but eating well can play a big role in sleep quality.
Avoid serving large, heavy meals at night, especially if your family tends to eat later. Even though most people see dinner as the largest meal of the day, eating a lot late in the day can lead to indigestion during the night as well as an unwanted boost in energy from the meal. Meals high in fat, sodium and spiciness are the main culprits.
Healthy, light options are perfect for dinner. Salads, small amounts of lean meat and whole grains will go a long way to keeping you and your kids full without the added bulk of some other meals.
Don't Watch TV Too Close to Bedtime
Even though it is extremely easy to zone out in front of the TV right up until you can't stay awake any longer, it's not a good idea for restful sleep. TVs, phones, and anything else with a screen on them emit a bright blue light that is linked to loss of sleep. Because our bodies see that type of light during the day, seeing it at night tells us that we should be awake instead of getting sleepy.
Electronic use at night among kids and teens is actually at epidemic levels according to recent studies, and a major factor in modern sleep deprivation trends as well. One recent study found that children with TVs, tablets or smartphones in their rooms slept 18-21 minutes less on average than kids without.
Unplugging for at least a half an hour before bed is a great way to make sure that everyone is becoming tired instead of gaining energy by looking at their electronics. It might seem archaic to detach from the outside world, but staving off the urge to use electronic devices at night will improve your family's sleep quality greatly.
Prime Bedrooms for Rest
Our sleep environment plays a big role in how easy it is to fall asleep and on the quality of rest once asleep. Rooms that are too warm or too cold, uncomfortable beds, too much light and too much noise can steal sleep. Do a sleep check of everyone's sleep quarters.
First, make sure there are few if any electronics around. Cover bright LED lights with black tape or unplug devices. Make sure windows don't let too much ambient light in. If your child needs a night light, look for a dim one using light in the reddish spectrum (as opposed to blue) or a motion-activated one. If you live in a noisy neighborhood or have noise-sensitive sleepers, a white noise machine or gentle music could be a helpful addition.
Next, look at the bed itself. Is the mattress in good condition? Are you or your child sleeping comfortably on it? Check occasionally for signs of wear or other problems. The average mattress lasts around eight years. Also, is the bedding season-appropriate and clean? Most sources suggest washing sheets weekly to limit bacteria and allergens.
The other primary environmental aspect of sleep is temperature. Cooler room temperatures, in the 60 to 70 degree range, are typically better for sleep. Below that, your body spends too much energy maintaining its temperature. When it is too hot however, it could impair deep sleep cycles and feel uncomfortable.
Also, try to reserve beds for sleep only. Spending hours reading, watching TV, working or studying in bed breaks the association in your brain between the bed and rest. Getting in bed only when it's time to sleep helps tell your body what to prepare for.
Start a Calming Night Time Activity
With the extra time you'll have not using your devices, you'll want to fill the gap with a fun, family friendly activity that encourages sleep.
Doing nighttime yoga can be something everyone benefits from and it is interactive. Try a few poses that everyone can do -- check sites like YouTube for tons of free instructables. Focus on relaxing, not necessarily pushing you or your family to their physical limits.
Those who aren't into yoga could try journaling, coloring, reading a paper book or any other low-key activity that doesn't induce stress.
Chill Out with a Warm Sip
Using tea or warm milk as a bedtime ritual is an easy way to relax. Stick to herbal teas, which have no caffeine, or white and green teas that have small amounts of caffeine. Several brands offer bedtime blends designed with sense-soothing herbs for slumber.
Kids and adults who aren't into tea can indulge in some warm milk or almond milk, just be sure to keep any bedtime drinks small in portion size and low in sugar.
Do What Works for Your Family
Every sleep tip won't work for every family. You'll have to decide what works best for your family's routine and lifestyle based on your schedules and age groups. Don't try to implement all of these ideas at one time. Gradual changes to get better sleep will stick in the long run.
The key thing to keep in mind is ensuring you keep a positive attitude about sleep especially around kids. Sure, bedtimes can be stressful and sometimes you really do have 30 hours worth of things to cram into the 24 hour day, but sleep is a natural and beneficial thing.
If you have difficult sleepers, try explaining why we need it. For example, it helps you be in a better mood, it helps you get better grades, it helps prevent colds and flus, and it even helps you look better! Once you've established a good night time routine, staying consistent (even on weekends and breaks) will help cement good habits and make bedtime easier.
Sleep is an important part of life, and with right mindset and habits, it can be a feel-good experience and welcomed end to a busy day.