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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sleep tricks

I preach about sleep to kids all the time, both at the office and at home. It is one of my three most important things for overall health along with eating nutritious foods and exercise. Most of us don't get enough sleep. Here are some tricks to get in a few extra minutes each day... they all add up!

photo source: Shutterstock

Most of these tips are appropriate not only for kids and teens, but also for their parents!

Know how much sleep is typical for every age group. A great infographic of this is found at the Sleep Foundation. Warning: It shows generalizations. For example: when tweens and teens go through a growth spurt many need 10-11 hours of sleep per night, which is more than the graph shows. Just remember that individuals are just that: individual.

Think of sleep as a currency. We can go into sleep debt when we don't get enough. If it's just a little loss of sleep, it is easy to catch up and pay back the debt. The further into debt you go, the harder it is to get out of debt. Don't let the bank come after you in terms of health problems!


  • Listen to your body. If you're tired, you need more sleep. The longer you stay up, the harder it will be to fall asleep. It is ironic, but sleep deprivation leads to insomnia. If you suffer, try to get extra zzz's on a weekend to fill the deficit. But don't allow yourself to sleep so late that you can't go to bed on time that night. (Note: many kids get hyper when they're tired, so don't be fooled if they have lots of energy in the evening. If they don't wake easily in the morning, they are tired!)
  • Routines. Go to bed and get up at the same times every night. If you stay up later on a weekend, be sure it isn't more than 2 hours past your ideal bedtime.
  • If you have a hard time getting up, try to get natural sunlight as soon as possible in the morning. It helps set your circadian rhythm. If you can't get natural sunlight, turn on lights in your home.
  • Conversely, start turning down lights a few hours before bedtime. Avoid screens (tv, computers, smart phones). Lights keep you from feeling tired. Don't let them keep you up!
  • Journal before bed if thoughts keep you awake. People who spend bedtime thinking about everything can't sleep. Jot a few things down to give yourself permission to not think anymore. Sounds weird, but this "worry list" works for many people!
  • Be active during the day. Lounging around makes you feel more tired during the day, but it is then harder to fall to sleep at night. Experts recommend avoiding exercise for a few hours before bedtime, but I know that is really hard for kids in sports. I don't have a great fix for that, unfortunately.
  • Set the alarm for the last possible minute. Kids and their parents who hit snooze several times miss out on all that sleep that they are in a half awake zone. If you really don't need to get up until the 3rd snooze time, set the alarm for that time. You will be more well rested so it will be easier to get up immediately. Train your body (or your kids) to get up at that time. After several days of an extra few minutes of sleep, you'll notice the difference!
  • Learn meditation or biofeedback. Some insurance plans might pay for this. There are apps available for smartphones and tablets, just do a search. Here's one review of apps to release tension. I have used the StressEraser, but it can be pricey. Searching Amazon or eBay will have less expensive options, allow you to browse several brands, and read customer reviews.
  • Set the mood in the room: darken the room, get the temperature "just right", and find the number of blankets that helps you sleep. Setting up a fan or other white noise maker helps many people sleep. For more tips on setting up the perfect room for sleeping, see Bedroom.
  • Keep kids out of the parent bed so everyone gets the best sleep. Snoring, different bedtime, and other body movements makes it hard to sleep together. No one sleeps well, which makes everyone grumpy the next day. 
  • Reading at bedtime can be a great relaxing thing, but if you have a page turner, be careful to not get caught up in the book for hours. I find that stopping at a lull mid-chapter is better than waiting until the end of a chapter. A good author leaves you hanging at the end of a chapter and begging for more! Set a time limit and stop reading when time's up! That's what bookmarks are for.
  • Avoid caffeine, especially hidden sources. I have occasionally gotten ice cream with coffee for a family bedtime treat, only to find out upon tasting it that it had coffee. Caffeine is often added to drinks, so read labels. But be careful! It might not say caffeine directly. Some are labeled as "guarana" -- a plant with caffeine. Pretty much anything that is labeled as an energy drink (or food) is a likely culprit.  Even decaf coffee has a small amount. Chocolate naturally has caffeine... the darker the chocolate the higher the caffeine content. Some pain relievers and other medicines have caffeine. Especially for those not accustomed to caffeine, it will disrupt sleep even if taken several hours before bedtime.
  • Take a warm bath. This can help relax you for a good night's rest.
  • Ask a family member to give you a massage or back rub. Again, a great way to relax!
  • Warm milk or herbal teas might help some sleep.