Sleep Series Part 1 – Setting a Sleep Schedule and Creating Routines
You have always known how important sleep is. You have likely heard recommendations to get 8 hours of sleep per night, along with the countless benefits getting enough sleep will yield. Maybe you’ve been diligent about getting 8 hours per night or maybe you pushed your limits, getting 7 or sometimes even only 6 hours per night. But what if there is something keeping you up every night? Giving you much less than recommended, sometimes even as little as only 4 or 5 hours of sleep.
In the same way that adults may have trouble falling asleep, kids may have trouble falling asleep, too. Sleep problems for kids can come from multiple areas. These may include not being able to fall asleep, not sleeping in their own bed or room, frequent wake ups throughout the night, and countless other factors that may keep our young ones up at night. In addition, while sleep issues may impact all kids, individuals with Autism may be at a higher risk for sleep disturbances (Mindell JA, Li AM, Sadeh A, Kwon R, Goh DY, 2015). Whatever is keeping them up, is also keeping us up at night, making that 8 hour recommendation seem like an impossibility.
Schedule and Routine
In part one of our three-part sleep series, we will discuss the benefits of setting a sleep schedule and creating a bedtime routine. It is recommended from a young age that children have a set sleep schedule. A sleep schedule is something that can be created for children as young as 10-12 weeks old. Even though a baby this young will not be developmentally ready to sleep through the night, setting a sleep schedule this young will set them on a path of proper sleep as they age (Mindell JA, Li AM, Sadeh A, Kwon R, Goh DY, 2015).
Even if your child is older, it is never too late to start a sleep schedule. A schedule should be the same or similar from night to night. It is recommended that you follow the routine with your child every night, however, if you need to deviate some nights, it’s best to keep at least some parts the same or similar so the routine still feels intact.
So what does a bedtime routine or sleep schedule entail? Typically, a bedtime routine begins anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour prior to the child’s actual bedtime. During this time, the child should be winding down from the day. You shouldn’t be starting homework, eating dinner, or playing a very exciting video game within this time frame. Activities should include something enjoyable, but calming. These may include taking a bath, reading a book or magazine, or having a conversation about the activities for the next day. Ultimately, calming activities will be based on what a child finds calming versus what they find stimulating. This will be individualized for every person (Mindell, et al, 2015).
Following this calming activity, other things that will be included in a bedtime routine include, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and getting into bed. A routine might include telling a bedtime story or reading a book, putting on a night light and turning out a brighter light, and tucking your child in under the covers.
The routine should follow a similar order every night and occur at a similar time each night. If first they brush their teeth, then get into their pajamas, then read a book with you, then get into bed, put on the nightlight, and get tucked in, then this order should be followed for the most part each night. This way, even if you are not home, you can follow this similar routine and your child should not have difficulty going to sleep. Deviations from the schedule are okay, as long as the basic outline follows a bedtime routine. This routine will help a child sleep more consistently through the night, help keep them in their own bed and room, and will help reduce resistance to going to sleep.
Keep in mind, that just as with the activities prior to the bedtime routine starting, the activities included should be calming to your child. It’s not a time to work on reading a difficult book or answering reading comprehension questions. It can be their favorite book or a book of their choice, or no book at all if this is not a relaxing activity for them.
If there are difficulties with getting to sleep or staying to sleep, a sleep schedule and bedtime routine is a great place to start. This can be started at a young age or even when a child is older. It’s worth giving this a try before resorting to other methods, however, it may not always be successful for every child. For more recommendations on different type of sleep problems, join us next month for our follow-up in our Sleep Series – what to do if schedule and routines don’t work.
Abel, E., Kim, S. Y., Kellerman, A. M., & Brodhead, M. T. (2016). Recommendations for Identifying Sleep Problems and Treatment Resources for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Behavior analysis in practice, 10(3), 261–269. doi:10.1007/s40617-016-0158-4
Mindell JA, Li AM, Sadeh A, Kwon R, Goh DY. (2015). Bedtime routines for young children: a dose-dependent association with sleep outcomes. SLEEP, 38(5):717–722. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4662