COVID-19 has taken center stage, and our young people are becoming more aware of the impact. Handling long days at home without interacting with their friends and classmates in-person, existing around their siblings 24/7, all while the parents are potentially working from home — it’s a lot for anyone and especially our most vulnerable little ones.
This disruption means that our kids are dealing with lots of unprecedented adjustments to their sense of normalcy, and one of the things we can do as parents and nannies to support them is to diligently work on developing their sleep hygiene.
When we help our nanny kids to establish a routine for bedtime that supports restful sleep, we set them up for a much better daily experience. Keep reading to learn how you can work on sleep hygiene with your nanny kids!
Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.
For school-aged children, a quick tidy-up is part of the bedtime routine: putting books and toys back on shelves and clothes in drawers and closets. Their room doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s more pleasant to rest and read or listen to music and stories in a tidy environment, and mornings go more smoothly if needed objects are where they belong and easy to find.
By the middle-school years, the weekend routine is typically a bit less regimented than the one for school nights, and weekend bedtimes can be later. Although, these days the week and weekends can be difficult to distinguish. Still, lights can go out at different times for different children in the family, depending on how much sleep they need. However, while your nanny kids may sleep late the next morning, try to keep weekend wake-ups within an hour or so of the usual time, especially if your nanny kid is not a creature of habit by nature. Left to sleep too long, in only a few days a vulnerable child can shift their sleep phase (periods of waking and sleeping) in such a way that they have trouble getting back on their usual schedule. School performance, (including current efforts in homeschooling), may suffer because they are drowsy when awoken on school days.
Keep Bedtime Routines Manageable
Unless carefully managed, bedtime routines can be drawn out almost indefinitely, ultimately defeating the purpose for which they’re intended. A child quickly learns that by taking charge of the show, they can significantly delay the time of going to bed. For example, they may have to repeatedly switch their stuffed animals because they can’t find quite the right combination to make them sleepy on a particular night. Or they may desperately need the answers to questions that will keep them awake if they have to wait until morning, or suddenly they’ve got an unquenchable thirst, you know the drill.
Obtaining healthy sleep is important for both physical + mental health. It can also improve productivity and overall quality of life. Everyone, from children to older adults, can benefit from practicing good sleep habits.
Allow your nanny kids flexibility within their routine, but keep things under your control by limiting the choices available. For example, let them choose different stuffed animals for bed each night, but keep them to a fixed number. Let them choose a story and a song, but not a whole book or CD. Try to keep the bedtime routine to no longer than 30 minutes.
As your nanny kid gets older, you should gradually begin to step back and let them become more in charge of their bedtime routine. Providing these opportunities during their daily routine is also a way to help them become more confident and self-reliant.
According to the experts at the National Sleep Foundation, there are some tried and true steps that can be taken to improve sleep and establish helpful bedtime routines.
One of the most important sleep hygiene practices is to spend an appropriate amount of time asleep in bed, not too little or too excessive. Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. However, there are recommendations that can provide guidance on how much sleep you need generally.
Sleep Hygiene Best Practices:
- Limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes. Napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep. However, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance.
- Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and sugar close to bedtime. Chocolate contains caffeine, and sugar is also a virile stimulant, particularly for children.
- Exercising to promote good quality sleep. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. For the best night’s sleep, most people should avoid strenuous workouts close to bedtime. However, the effect of intense nighttime exercise on sleep differs from person to person, so find out what works best for you.
- Steering clear of food that can be disruptive right before sleep. Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion for some people. When this occurs close to bedtime, it can lead to painful heartburn that disrupts sleep.
- Ensuring adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for individuals who may not venture outside frequently. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Establishing a regular relaxing bedtime routine. A regular nightly routine helps the body recognize that it is bedtime. This could include taking a warm shower or bath, reading a book, or light stretches. When possible, try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before attempting to sleep.
- Making sure that the sleep environment is pleasant. Mattress and pillows should be comfortable. The bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees – for optimal sleep. Bright light from lamps, cell phone, and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep, so turn those light off or adjust them when possible. Consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing.
What are some of the ways that you nurture good sleep hygiene yourself? We’d love to hear about your personal experiences or best practices!
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