Sleep is important. We all need it. We are designed to love it. We can’t function very long without it.
Is there anything better than being super tired and having the opportunity to crawl into a warm, cozy bed, lay your head on a fluffy pillow and let your eyes close? No. There’s not.
Is there anything worse than not getting enough sleep and being awakened by an alarm clock or screaming baby and having to pull yourself out of slumber and get up. Very little is worse than that.
Because Sleep is awesome. If I could, I would go to sleep right now. All I do is dream of Sleep the whole night through. With the dawn I still go on dreaming of Sleep. Those are lyrics to a song that I have modified to include the word ‘sleep’. I have started capitalizing the word Sleep to give it the respect it deserves.
I write Sleep love notes. I buy Sleep birthday presents. If Sleep were a fair maiden, I would have married Sleep before I married my wife. I would make out with Sleep if that were possible.
And as much as we adults love and need sleep, kids need it even more.
There’s a reason small babies sleep most of the day. There’s a reason that little kids have a “nap” time and transform into a demon spawn when they don’t get it.
That reason is not because they are lazy slobs.
That reason is because sleep is when they grow and build and develop and recharge.
Sleep is a really fascinating phenomenon. When you wake you have two systems that are working simultaneously. One system is driving you to stay awake. The other system is driving you to sleep. They are designed to work in perfect harmony. If they get out of sync, you’ll know it (think sleeping in until noon or going to bed at 4 AM or flying across several time zones).
These two systems work on a daily cycle or “about a day” which is what ‘circadian’ means. Animals in the wild shape their lives around the natural rhythms of their surroundings rather than try and work against them. We humans have created an environment that typically works against our own natural cycles.
Humans (kids included) are designed to have white and blue light waves entering their eyeballs throughout the day, then orange/amber/red light waves entering the brain towards the end of the day and only light waves emitted from the moon and stars at night. Our eyes are designed to deal with the following natural light sources: sun, moon, stars, fire.
But most people today tend to ignore that natural, daily cycle. Most people watch television and have bright, white lights on regularly after dark. Most people work on their computers and look at their phones right before bed.
None of this is good for our sleep/wake cycles. It is especially harmful for our children’s sleep/wake cycles. Ever wonder why your kid’s not getting enough sleep or won’t go to bed without a fight or can’t wake up in the morning? It is most likely because his sleep/wake cycle has been thrown off due to irregular sleep patterns and/or exposure to white and blue light waves after the sun has gone down.
So what can you do to fix your child’s sleep?
- Go to bed at or around the same time every day (within 10-15 minutes)
We have a bedtime routine at our house. It takes about an hour. It involves bathing and snacking and singing and searching around for small, stuffed animals that my daughters can’t sleep without and won’t learn to look for them DURING THE DAY AND PUT THEM IN THEIR BEDS DURING THE DAY SO WE DON’T HAVE TO SEARCH AROUND FOR THEM AT NIGHT!! Ahem. Excuse me.
So we know that if we want to get the girls to bed at 9 PM, we need to start the circus routine no later than 8 PM. We go to bed later in the summer and earlier in the winter because that is one way to get in tune with your environment’s light cycle.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night — and kids older than 4 or 5 should try and get closer to 9 or 10 (younger than 4 or 5 need to get way more than 9 or 10 using the all-important nap).
Back this one out. If you know you need to wake up at 6:30 AM, know that you need to go to sleep (or get your kids to sleep) around 8:30 PM so you start the nighttime circus at 7:30 PM.
- No stimulants late in the day.
This one is fairly easy since most of your kids probably don’t smoke or use stimulating drugs. Watch out for caffeine in drinks and dark chocolate. Sugar can also act as a stimulant.
- Eliminate white/blue light wave exposure after the sun goes down.
This one will be weird for most people. This one is the equivalent of me telling you not to eat Pop Tarts for breakfast when you’ve been eating Pop Tarts for breakfast everyday for the last 24 years.
When the sun sets outside, we end all use of white/blue light exposure for the kids. That means no TV, no iPad, no phone, no computer after dark. That means we take baths by candle light (or use the natural light of the sunset through the window).
We have orange light bulbs in the lamp in their room and in our pendant light in our kitchen. We have candles strategically placed around the house (kitchen and their bathroom) and light them when the sun sets. We use battery powered orange decorative lights for their night lights.
If you do this long enough, your kids will start to understand what you’re trying to do, and they’ll close their eyes if the TV happens to be turned on by a visiting grandparent or the refrigerator door opens in their face. They’ll get it. If you eliminate white/blue light after dark then a bright light turns on, it is almost painful — a good sign that you shouldn’t be exposed to it.
My wife and I wear orange glasses to filter out the white/blue light that we haven’t completely eliminated during the nighttime circus — pantry light, refrigerator, etc…
After the girls are in bed, we keep our orange glasses on to watch TV or work on the computer or look at our phones if we want.
White/blue light is a stimulant, too. Think of the moths that flutter around your back porch lights. Poor things would probably rather be asleep but they just. can’t. resist. the. light.
If you are like we used to be and use white/blue lights regularly after dark, this can be a pretty drastic change. Hang with it. Don’t give up. It will soon become the norm and your kids (and you) will get used to it.
It teaches you to clean up before the sun goes down, too, so you won’t keep stepping on the little doll shoes that seem to end up everywhere. You’ll learn to put the candles, matches, and orange glasses in the same place every night so you know right where they are.
LowBlueLights.com is a great resource for education, orange bulbs and glasses.
There are more benefits from doing this than just getting better sleep, too. Anytime you can get more in tune with your natural surroundings, good things happen.
Sleep is great. You love sleep because you need sleep. So make sure that you and your kids are getting the best possible sleep you can, and get tuned back in to your natural, daily rhythms.