How to sleep well: The mozzzzt important parenting tip

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Like most parents, I do a lot of reading about how to be a better parent. I do it, in part, to validate how awesome I’m doing (“Yep, I do that – and that, and that”) and rarely a day goes by that I don’t think, “Oooh, I gotta try that.”

About 18 months ago, I read an article that really struck a chord. There’s this high school in Toronto that was experimenting with later start times for the kids. The reasoning went that serotonin levels in the brain were more active later in the day, so the students were able to pay attention more.

If you read anything about stress these days, they’ll tell you that we grown ups should be getting more sleep. More sleep – and better sleep – helps us live longer and live healthier. When I read the article on the high school students, I slapped my forehead in realization. Like any habit, sleep finds its roots in childhood, which means that if you want to sleep well as an adult, you have to build better sleep habits in your children.

Sleep often gets shortchanged in the minds of most parents. We say we want our kids to get to bed early, but there’s always a little more reading time, homework time or errands that get in the way. We have a toddler and two early schoolers to get to bed, in addition to the others, who are old enough to put themselves to bed. And while our intentions are always good intentions, we cut corners 3-4 nights a week.

It shouldn’t surprise us that kids are crazy groggy for the 6:45 school alarm.

And so, I’ve committed to trying a few things to get everyone to bed a little earlier or sleep a little smarter. I set a deadline for myself to get them into bed. But I’ve tried three other things that are helping…

For one, I’ve created a “buffer” of time for the kids. I send them up to bed and give them a 20-minute wind down time. They can read or catch the last bits of a show. It physically puts them in a warm, comfy space that says “time to call it a night.” My hope is that this is creating a long-term habit that teaches them how to get to sleep.

The second thing is a little trickier and I’m thinking of employing some technology to help out. When I amble into our six-year-old’s bedroom for the 6:45 wake up call, I look at him. I can tell if he’s in a deep sleep or a light sleep. Light sleep and I wake him up. Deep sleep and I leave him for a bit. Our bodies move through a series of cycles when we sleep, and you wake up far more refreshed when you’re in the lighter REM part of the cycle. Our teen has been successfully using an app on her phone to monitor what stage she’s in and it wakes her up at the right time. In the next few weeks, I think I’ll get all the kids to do the same with their iDevices.

Finally, and most importantly, I tell everyone to put prioritize sleep. To me, sleep is more important than anything else in our home. We invest in good beds, we encourage good sleep patterns (hot milk is very helpful), we keep the kids active in extracurricular activities. I even let the kids skip part of a morning of school every few weeks just to get a few extra zzzs. The shorter time they do spend in class is better time spent in class.

I’m curious to know what you think – what strategies do you use to teach your kids good sleep habits? What’s working? What’s not? Lemmee know. In the meantime, I think I’ve earned myself a nap.

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