If there’s one thing parents love to talk about, it’s sleep. How little they’re getting. What strategies they’re trying. Who woke up last night and when. How they might sneak in a nap, if possible.
So it’s somewhat surprising that despite all of this, many children simply aren’t getting enough shut-eye, leaving them cranky, nodding off at school and at risk for a range of health problems later on, including obesity and behavioral and learning problems. Research has long shown that poor sleep quality (that is, trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep) is linked to poorer school performance.
It’s such a vital issue that last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a PSA on the topic, to help ensure that parents don’t just talk about sleep, but actually know how many hours their kids really need. Watch it below:
It's an especially important topic at this time of year, since the holiday season can wreak havoc on kids’ sleep—and also come with a few legit safety hazards, notes pediatrician Elizabeth Murray, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, who works in the pediatric emergency medicine department at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
"To start, there’s holiday travel, which disrupts your schedule from the moment you leave home," says Murray. "Flying to visit relatives can thrust you into in a new time zone and rob everyone of the hard-won ability to fall asleep at bedtime. Plus, there’s the daunting prospect of getting back into the school [or] groove in January." (That first wake-up after winter break can be ugly.) Finally, there are sleep-safety issues you have to keep in mind when you’re on the road, taking into account the same rules for infants and babies that you do at home.
To make the season smoother and safer, be realistic and try to plan for common disturbances, recommends Murray. Whether it's due to travel, houseguests, or the prospect of gifts under the tree, “there's going go be some amount of chaos within your family’s schedule,” says Murray. Sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, a different room, bunking in with cousins or relatives—these are all things that can upset their familiar routine and chip away at both sleep time and quality. (There’s actually something called the “first night effect,” where by your brain seems to be on alert in a new place, keeping your sleep from ever being that restorative.)
Adding in extra travel time can help, so that you can try to stick to regular bedtimes as much as possible. Also be sure to bring along the various loveys and sleep-cues that kids use at home. Bring a nightlight in your travel bag in case an unfamiliar sleep spot is deemed scary. If possible, let kids try out their pack and play or inflatable mattress before the trip, so that the first night in a new spot is also not the very first time they’ve spent in a travel crib.
Speaking of babies, stay rigorous with safe sleep practices, urges Murray. Those soft, cozy hotel beds, in particular, are no place for babies—they’re loaded with pillows and other potential suffocation hazards, not to mention that a baby can fall off the bed.
As for how to get kids back on their normal schedule after a few too many late nights and lazy mornings, Murray suggests you start waking your kids up 15 minutes earlier every day a few days in advance of their first day back—which will get them primed to go to bed at the proper time, as well as waking up bright and early as well.