Spring has finally arrived!
And as the days get longer and light lingers into the evening hours, I find it harder and harder to get my kids to settle into bed every evening. Instead of drifting into sleepy wonderland, the natural light peeking through their curtains distracts them and the sounds of older children playing catch next door.
I have heard similar complaints from other parents during recent office visits in the past few weeks as well. It turns out that “spring fever” for a child not only affects their energy level during the day, but also can induce a “spring insomnia” that may change their sleeping patterns at night.
To help kids fall asleep at a more acceptable time, I have been repeating the same few recommendations time and again whenever a child mentions that they have difficulty falling asleep.
If your child has “spring insomnia” and you’d like some help re-acclimating to a more normal schedule, see if these changes may make a difference for you:
1. Turn off all electronic devices 30 – 60 minutes before it’s time to go to sleep. The bright lights that illuminate the screens of computers, televisions, and even cell phones alter our internal clocks and confuse the brain into thinking it’s daytime. Melatonin is the body’s natural sleep facilitator that helps regulate our Circadian rhythms. Bright lights suppress melatonin levels and therefore make it harder to fall asleep.
2. Try to go to bed roughly at the same time every evening and wake up around the same time every day. I know this is a quasi-unrealistic goal for most teens and preteens, but keeping bedtime and waking time within an hour on the weekdays and weekends will help regulate our natural Circadian rhythms and make it easier to fall asleep.
3. Bed is for sleep. Period. To help your subconscious understand that bed is a natural sleep environment, avoid doing homework, talking on the phone or using any electronic devices in bed.
4. Don’t make bed a war zone. When most children (and adults) can’t fall asleep, they typically get progressively agitated while watching the clock, thinking about how tired they’ll be the next day, and tossing and turning in effort to find the magical position that will usher them to sleep. If you’ve been trying to fall asleep without success for more than 30 minutes, get up and find a quiet activity to do. Read a book in a dimly lit room or try to do a crossword puzzle while your body slowly calms down. Head back to bed when you feel tired.
Finally, if you’ve tried all of these tricks and still can’t sleep at night, talk to your doctor about other suggestions. After all, even the most perfect children can quickly turn to devils if they don’t get an adequate amount of sleep.
Kristin Seaborg is a Wisconsin pediatrician who writes about her experiences and perspective as a pediatrician and a parent of three children on her blog, Common Sense Motherhood. To find out more about Dr. Seaborg, you can visit her at her website, www.kristinseaborg.com.