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Encouraging Good Sleep Habits

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By Dr. Erin Kardel

Getting your child to go to bed is not always easy, particularly during the summer and other extended breaks from school. Although these breaks can make a schedule and consistency difficult, having good sleep habits are vital to your child’s health and well-being.

During sleep, major restorative functions in the body occur, and adequate sleep has been shown to help with learning and memory, good judgment, and a more adaptive mood. Inadequate sleep, on the other hand, can have a variety of both short-and long-term consequences including trouble with mood regulation, increased irritability, impulsivity, attention and concentration difficulties, decreased productivity, and noncompliance. Taken together, the physical, mental, and behavioral consequences of inadequate sleep can have profound effects and lead to more serious mental health and biological concerns.

As a reference, The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has outlined the recommended amount of sleep based on age:

• Infants (4-12 months): 12 to 16 hours
• Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours
• Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours
• School-age children (6-12 years): 9 to 12 hours
• Teenagers (13-18 years): 8 to 10 hours

Tips on Encouraging Good Sleep Habits
When experts talk about “sleep hygiene,” they are referring to establishing habits that promote a good night’s sleep. Having a bedtime routine does not mean that you cannot be flexible when certain situations arise, but consistency and predictability are key. Below is a list of helpful tips to consider when it comes to your child’s bedtime and promoting good sleep habits.

• Stick to the same bedtime and wake time every day, even on weekends since children sleep better when they have a consistent sleep schedule.
• Have a wind-down time at night that involves calm activities, such as a bath/shower, and time to do a non-stimulating activity such as reading or drawing.
• Turn down the lights to allow the body to naturally make its own melatonin. Melatonin, which is a hormone in our bodies, helps control our sleep and wake cycles.
• Turn off any electronics at least an hour before bed and leave them off for the rest of the night. Bright lights and artificial blue light (such as those on cell phones and laptops) can throw off your body clock by confusing your brain into thinking it’s still wake time. Your circadian rhythm, also known as your body clock, is an internal system that tells our bodies when to sleep and rise.
• Make sure the bed is for sleeping only. Lying on the bed and doing other activities makes it hard for your brain to associate your bed with sleep. Likewise, try not to allow your child to fall asleep in places other than their bed, so they do not associate those with sleep.
• If a child is tossing and turning, have them get out of bed (so they do not associate the bed with sleeplessness) and do something that isn’t too stimulating, such as read a boring book. They can return to bed once they are sleepy again.
• Make sure your child’s bedroom environment is cool, quiet, and comfortable.
• Help to teach your child how to relax. They can use techniques such a taking slow breaths and by doing “belly breathing.”
• Let your children know that they should avoid exercising and caffeine late in the day. They should also avoid heavy meals before bedtime. If they need to have a snack close to bed, help them choose one that is light.
• Encourage your child to fall asleep independently. If you need to have a bedtime checkup, they should be short and sweet so that you do not accidentally negatively reinforce behaviors.
• If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, you should get them back to bed as soon as possible. Children often like having nighttime interactions with parents, but you should minimize any reward that they might be getting from them. Walk the child back to their room and then sit next to the bed if needed for a short period. This can be hard initially, but children need to learn that they can sleep on their own. Talk with your child about a plan to gradually reduce night time dependence or interactions. For younger children who may need more help with motivation to change their behavior, you may introduce a reward program. Provide positive reinforcement for small successes.
• Help your child identify any thoughts that may be negatively impacting sleep or contributing to difficulty “turning off” their mind. If needed, designate another time to write down problems and possible solutions in the late afternoon or early evening, not close to bedtime.

If your child is having serious trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early, and a consistent sleep schedule is not working, it may be time to consult your pediatrician or a psychologist. A clinician can rule out anything else that could be contributing to difficulty with good sleep including medical concerns or a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression and can help a child learn techniques to have a better night sleep.

Dr. Erin Kardel, a well-respected and highly credentialed clinician, earned her Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology from The George Washington University and her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from American University. Today, Dr. Kardel is a licensed Clinical Psychologist at NeuroScience, Inc. (NSI), a Herndon, VA-based practice where she specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and also serves as an investigator for NSI’s qualitative and medication research studies. Her CBT treatment emphasizes behavioral interventions, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP), and biofeedback, as well as collaboration with families, schools, and health providers to ensure patient-first success.

As an expert in CBT and mindfulness-based cognitive behavior therapy (MBCBT), Dr. Kardel’s work experience and specialized training make her an asset to the NeuroScience, Inc. team. Dr. Kardel is an expert in multiple areas, including OCD, phobias, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, trichotillomania, and insomnia.

Dr. Kardel has worked with children, adolescents, and adults in a variety of settings throughout her career and she is ready to help you or your loved ones meet their goals.

To schedule a consultation or appointment with Dr. Erin Kardel, please call (703) 787-9090. NeuroScience is located at 106 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170. Learn more, including what insurances NeuroScience accepts, by connecting onlineFacebook, and Twitter.

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