My husband and I are like police when it comes to maintaining bedtimes.
Our kids are out the door for school at 7:25 a.m. In order to get the rest they need, it’s lights out at 7:30 every night. The baby tends to be in bed by 6 p.m.
Some people think I’m crazy. How can you possibly get the kids to go to sleep that early? In my opinion, sleeping is the kids’ responsibilities. My job is to exercise them, feed them, read with them and yell lights out in my serious mom voice when the clock strikes half-past seven.
As a recent feature in the Globe and Mail highlighted, there is much evidence to suggest sleep is imperative to good health. Despite this, reports Erin Anderssen, a combination of urbanization, technological interruptions and the glorification of busy seem to have relegated a good night’s sleep to the sidelines. And while many of us make the connection between nutritious food, exercise and good health, sleep doesn’t often find its way into the same conversation.
Anderssen cites a number of studies that link lack of sleep to everything from obesity to depression to attention deficit disorder. And of course, the negative effects of sleep deprivation have also been well documented elsewhere. But if one is in the habit of getting only fragmented and irregular sleep, how can you make a change?
I’m not a health expert, but the preservation of sleep has made me a keen observer of the things that tend to help or hinder slumber. It’s no secret that light blocks the production of melatonin – the sleep drug – so technology has a huge impact both on getting kids to sleep and keeping them there. Most evenings our kids have zero screen time, but we’re far from the norm. Statistics suggest that up to half of children in the U.S. have TV sets in their bedrooms -- nevermind those that are playing with smartphones, portable video game consoles and tablets in their beds.
Fresh air and exercise are key elements to good sleep. We like the kids to run around for at least an hour in the late afternoon. Too much indoor time and they have a lot more trouble settling.
Finally, I find the kids don’t fall asleep unless it’s been at least two hours since their evening meal. This last “rule” is probably the most difficult for working families to implement. Admittedly, we eat supper at 5:30 p.m. daily – at least that’s the goal. If we miss the mark, it’s guaranteed to be a regular party at bedtime, with sleep the last thing on their minds. If I watch the clock – which I frequently do – I note they nod off precisely at that two hour mark.
There are many in my social and family circles that consider me a fanatic when it comes to good sleep. But the fact is, getting the kids to bed at the same time each day is not only good for their health, it’s good for mine too. If I can count on them bedding down routinely, I can have “grown-up time” every night. That means more time for reading books, talking to my husband, catching up with friends or catching up on work – although admittedly, I don’t like working on a computer in the evening – it has a negative effect on my sleep.