After a long summer day of swimming, camping, or playing in the sun, the last thing anyone wants—or needs—is a long, sleepless night. Sleep supports growth and development in children and adolescents, and it supports optimal brain function, a healthy immune system, and participation in daily activities for individuals of all ages (AOTA, 2017, NIH 2012). While the importance of getting a good night’s sleep is clear, how to get one may not seem as obvious. Below are some tips and tricks to demystify the two key aspects of sleep: sleep preparation and sleep participation (AOTA, 2014, p. S20).
Sleep preparation involves engaging in the routines to get ready for sleep and preparing the environment for sleep (AOTA, 2014, p. S20).
Summer break usually means less routine, but even choosing to do a few specific activities before bed to signal the end of the day and time for rest can help make sure both children and adults are more prepared for sleep. The good news is, most of these are activities you’re likely doing anyway! Activities like taking a bath or shower, changing into pajamas, or reading a book are perfect activities for preparing for sleep. The key is being as consistent as possible with both the order of these activities and the timing, giving at least one to two hours before bedtime to start this routine. Almost as important as what to include in your routine, is what not to include. Screen time, exercise, large meals, and caffeinated beverages, for example, are all things that can negatively impact our ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Preparing the environment supports being able to fall asleep and stay asleep. An important way to support being able to sleep is setting up the bedroom and bed to enable sleep. Think of the bedroom as a “cave.” It should be cool, dark, and quiet. Importantly, a bedroom should only be associated with sleep or sleep preparation (e.g., reading a book before bed). Having another area of your home for work, play, etc. and using the bedroom exclusively for sleep helps your body to associate your bedroom for sleep (Caruso & Chosewood, 2020). For children with sensory differences, special consideration should be given to environmental factors like light, sound, or the texture of the child’s pajamas, sheets, or blankets, which may all impact how comfortable a child feels during sleep.
Sleep participation includes taking care of personal needs for sleep and sustaining sleep (AOTA, 2014, p. S20). This may include needs related to hydration or toileting, the amount of sleep an individual gets, and any wakefulness during sleep. Avoiding heavy meals and limiting liquids around 2-3 hours prior to bedtime will support sleeping through the night and help to avoid bedtime accidents or having to get up in the middle of night to use the bathroom (Caruso & Chosewood, 2020). Unsurprisingly, the amount of sleep we need changes as we age. Here’s a chart from the Sleep Foundation, so you can see how much sleep you or members of your family need:
If you wake up during the night, avoid looking at your phone or other bright, alerting lights. If after 30 minutes you still can’t sleep, get out of bed and try a calming activity, before attempting to return to sleep (Caruso & Chosewood, 2020). If you’re a parent of a young child or a child/adolescent who needs greater support for self-care, you will likely have to help facilitate this process. For older, more independent children, help them think of quiet, calming activities they could do (e.g. reading, listening to calming music, self-massage) if they wake up, and set up those objects close by so they can access them at night. They may also benefit from having a lamp with a low light setting they can turn on if they wake up in the middle of the night to ease any anxiety related to waking up while it is still dark.
Getting enough sleep is a very important aspect of our well-being, and sleepless nights are often a frustrating experience for all involved. Luckily, there are many resources out there to help support families get to sleep and stay asleep in order that long summer days can turn into long, restful nights. Here are some helpful websites to explore even more tips related to sleep:
- CDC’s Sleep webpage includes basic information, facts sheets and data and statistics regarding sleep: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
- The National Sleep Foundation website includes information based on sleep science and reviews of products related to sleep: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/
- The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health has a sleep division which studies different aspects of sleep and publishes helpful information related to sleep on their website :
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). (2017). Occupational therapy’s role in
sleep. Retrieved from www.aota.org
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). (2014b). Occupational therapy practice
framework: Domain & process (3rd ed.). The American Journal of Occupational Therapy,
68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48.
Caruso, C. & Chosewood, C. (2020). Improve sleep: tips to improve sleep when times are tough. NIOSH Science Blog. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2020/06/29/sleep-hwd/
National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NIH). (2012). Sleep deprivation and deficiency.
Retrieved from www.nih.gov
Written by: Haley Moshier, OTD, OTR/L