Authored by Patrick Landry, Vice President, Marketing & Sales at Helight
Now that the busy holiday season is over and the New Year is underway, some of us will settle back into our routines, including healthy sleep patterns. But for many others, including pre-teens and teens who struggle to balance sleep with other activities, a good night’s rest may remain an elusive commodity.
As parents, we can help our children sleep better so they are getting the quality rest they need
According to Canada’s 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, pre-teens up to age 13 require nine to eleven hours of sleep per night, while teens between 14 and 17 need eight to ten hours every night. Good quality sleep is essential to healthy growth and development, a fact that won’t surprise any parent.
But there’s a lot competing with the Sandman for a teenager’s time.
In addition to the demands of school, clubs and sports, part-time jobs, socializing and family obligations, there are the ever-present tech devices. During the day, smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions often divert our kids from more physical pursuits that would tire them out and prepare them for a good night’s sleep.
At night, the blue light emitted from these devices mimics sunlight, throwing off our natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. This means that instead of being cued by the darkness to fall asleep naturally, blue light exposure actually makes kids more alert. When devices are finally turned off, the body takes longer to fall asleep as it adjusts to the darkness. Often, teens become frustrated with their inability to fall asleep quickly; as anxiety mounts, sleep is an increasingly elusive goal.
Here are five tips to help your child develop good sleep hygiene – a life skill that will grow with them:
- Ban tech at bedtime: Make a household rule that all smartphones and tablets must be on their chargers in the kitchen by a certain time each night – ideally, two hours before sleep time. If your child argues that their phone is also their alarm, buy them an old school digital alarm clock. The best scenario is a bedroom free of all tech, including TVs. Obviously, this type of rule is best introduced in the pre-teen years or whenever they acquire their first tech device – so that by the late teens, it will hopefully be a healthy habit.
- Go dark: The darker the room, the more melatonin your body will naturally produce, enabling better sleep.
- Keep it cool: Sleep is naturally heralded by a drop in body temperature, so a cool room with adequate airflow and the right type of bedding is ideal.
- Stick to a routine: Encourage older kids to develop a bedtime routine and stick with it, as much as possible, so their brain associates those activities with oncoming sleep.
- Choose red, not blue: Research has shown that pure red light has the opposite effect of energizing blue light. Investigate products such as Helight Sleep, a bedside device inspired by NASA’s work and based on the latest findings related to exposure to red light at specific wavelengths. Helight Sleep or Helight Kidzzz are ideal for both adults and kids who have trouble falling asleep. They release 630 nanometer pure red light that signals the brain to relax, release natural melatonin, and go to sleep.
One final piece of advice: A recent CBC article revealed it is becoming “exceedingly common” for U.S. children and teens to take melatonin supplements for sleep. Medical experts are sounding the alarm about the trend, saying it’s not a magic pill for children’s sleep problems. In fact, melatonin is a hormone that Health Canada has regulated for adults only – too much of it can cause bad dreams and aggressive behaviour in children, among other side effects. Before giving your child melatonin supplements, consult your family physician or paediatrician.