St. Albans Messenger Staff

If there is one thing every parent knows, it’s that an overtired child is a cranky, irritable child.

When children – and adults – haven’t had enough sleep, they typically have trouble concentrating and lack of sleep has been connected to obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

But with so many demands on families, and so many distractions keeping us all up at night, making certain your child gets the sleep they need can be a challenge. Here are some tips to help.

Limit screen time before bed. Researchers at Harvard found that the blue light in screens suppresses the body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that helps to put us to sleep. Keeping your child away from screens for an hour or two before bed can make it easier for your child to fall asleep.

Keep screens out of the child’s bedroom. This can be especially helpful with teens and middle school students who may be tempted to pick up their phone, tablet or laptop if they wake during the night. Take away the temptation by not allowing screens in children’s rooms at night. Denise Smith, Program Manager for RiseVT, says that she gathers all of the devices before bed and puts them downstairs at the charging station in order to resist the temptation to pick it up before falling asleep.

Have a set bed time. Going to bed at the same time every night – and waking at the same time every morning – trains our bodies when it is time to sleep. That, in turn, makes falling asleep each night easier.

Have a routine. Just as with a set bedtime, a nightly routine can signal to our bodies when it is time to rest. It can also help children to wind down and prepare for bed. A warm bath, reading a story together, even taking a couple of minutes to say ‘good-night’ to each and every stuffed animal, can help children shift gears from wakefulness to sleep.

Keep rooms dark.  Although blue light has a greater impact on melatonin and the body’s natural sleep and wakefulness rhythms, called circadian rhythms, ordinary bedroom lamps can also have an impact. Harvard researcher Stephen Lockley found that lamps with a brightness of eight lux, or 90 watts for an LED light, can negatively impact our ability to sleep. When purchasing a night light for the child who doesn’t like the dark, check to make sure it’s less than 90 watts.

Exercise. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends at least an hour of movement a day for children and teens. Exercise has long been recognized as encouraging better sleep and is sometimes even used to treat patients with insomnia.

Stretching or Yoga.  Doing some mindful breathing and movement before bed is another great way to get your body to relax, re-center, and settle in for a good night’s sleep.  Jessica Frost, Wellness Specialist with RiseVT ,does 5 to 10 minutes of yoga before bed.“A few stretches and deep breathing before bed really helps me sleep better and stay asleep throughout the night,” said Frost.

Start now. It’s best to shift bedtimes a few minutes at a time, according to NMC pediatrician Dr. Deanne Haag. “Start early- a few weeks before school starts. It is difficult to make the adjustment all at once-so I recommend going to bed 10-15 min earlier and waking up 10-15 min earlier every few days until you reach the desired bedtime and wake-up times,” she said. “The more off-schedule a person is, the longer it will take to return to the desired times, so start early and stick to it as best you can.”

Now is also a good time to firm up bedtime routines, before children have to start rising early to catch the school bus.

Denise Smith, Program Manager at RiseVT, contributed to this article.