Every 24 hours the sun rises and falls, the moon glows and the stars shine. And our children go to bed, sleep through the night.
Wake up! You’re having that dream again!
Helping our children to get a good night’s sleep is one of the toughest challenges parents face. And, we all know that a good night’s sleep is contagious; we catch it from our kids!
The health benefits of sleep are limitless. From boosting immunity to maintaining a healthy weight, sleep is one of our best medicines. In fact, the onset of many mood and attention disorders has been linked lack of quality sleep. When patients are looking for medicines or supplements for these problems, I often say, “If you want to take something for that, take a nap.”
So why is it so hard to get a good night’s sleep? One of the keys to the question is the understanding that just like the sun, our brains want to work on a 24-hour cycle. Sleep is a complex neurologic and physiological process, and learning to work within its natural rhythms can help establish a good sleep cycle.
Babies are born with chaotic sleep patterns. With time and a little guidance, the nighttime sleep gets longer and deeper. After a few months, babies are capable of sleeping through the night or waking only to feed and then returning to sleep.
Our brains love consistency, so having a set bedtime is ideal. When a child is in a good rhythm, he will be wide-awake until about a half an hour before his sleep cycle begins. Going to bed before this time may result in lying in bed awake—perhaps crying—and will interfere with falling asleep. But, as that magic hour draws near, dimming the lights, following a routine and going to bed at the right time will usher in the best possible start to a good night’s sleep.
But woe is the teen whose sleep cycle has drifted far into the night. Most teens need around 9 hours of sleep to keep their minds sharp and bodies healthy. The pressures of school, homework, sports and their social lives push their bed times later and later. This delay in the onset of their sleep cycles is one of the biggest problems we find with teens. Once that late sleep cycle is set, it is hard to fall asleep on time.
When that alarm sounds at 6 in the morning, they are deep into the second half of their night’s sleep, rich with the restorative REM sleep which helps their brains process information, lay down memories and deal with their daily stresses. After a few nights in a row, their sleep onset is delayed, they don’t get a healthy dose of sleep and become chronically sleep deprived. The only fix is to fall asleep a just a little earlier every night until you can finally say: “OK. Let’s go. Time for Bed.”