All of us need sleep and probably more than we’re currently getting. Aside from making us tired and grumpy, inadequate sleep can make it difficult to focus and effect our ability to be productive. Cutting sleep to get ahead at work or school may be counterproductive. A study of college students found that sleep accounted for the largest variance in GPA, more than time management, stress, mood, eating habits, and social supports. This news probably isn’t that surprising as we’ve all been sleepy at some point and felt its effects on our daily tasks, but repeated lack-of-sleep can have some serious long-term health problems.

Even on a short term basis, inadequate sleep increases stress and a number of stress associated health concerns like elevated blood pressure, increased inflammation, and improper regulation of blood glucose. Long term studies show inadequate sleep is associated with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and sub-par immune function. All of these health conditions lead to an association of chronic inadequate sleep with a shortened life expectancy.

With all this looming above us, it’s important to have a sleep action plan for the entire family. Remember, different age groups need different amounts of sleep so plan accordingly and expect it to change over time. Here are some things to look at.

Sleep Environment

  • Mattress
    • Every sleep surface needs to be the appropriate size and support for the person using it.
    • We move between 35-60 times each night making adequate size essential to support comfortable movement.
      • A growing child on a mattress too small is guaranteed sleep difficulties
    • Medium firmness is likely the best, but everyone is different. At the very least, the surface should be welcoming.
    • Avoid relegating children to those previously used by adults. The wear on the mattress may lead to uneven sleep surfaces in addition to dust mites and potentially harmful microorganisms.
  • Colors
    • Restful room colors can calm and relax those inside allowing them to wind down into a restful sleep. Try neutral colors or light pastels.
    • Vibrant colors may delay relaxation and sleep.
  • Temperature
    • Too hot or cold makes it hard to fall and stay asleep.
    • Everyone’s sleep temperature is different, so families may need to experiment and vary the type of bedding for each member.
      • Breathable bed coverings allow for optimal air circulation and will help with the natural temperature changes everybody experiences while sleeping.

Behavioral

  • Diet
    • Sugar, caffeine, and other stimulating substances need to be regulated.
    • Watch the quantity and time of consumption.
  • Noise and Darkness
    • Stimulation and emotions need to wind down before falling asleep. Televisions, computers, and cell phones need to be turned off and even removed from the room to avoid temptation.
    • A routine of calming activities such as reading a book or magazine (non-electronic) either to yourself or aloud to children is an excellent way to calm down and fall into a restful sleep.

In addition to these, children may have emotional needs or fears at bedtimes. Be prepared to help your kids achieve a healthy schedule and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If a child has physical pain or other abnormalities like recurring nightmares, it’s important to visit a doctor. Staying with the child until they fall asleep will not always be practical and can be detrimental to your own schedule. Reassure them that you are just next door and that you will always make sure they are safe, but that it is time to sleep.

Healthy sleep is essential for growth, proper function, and maintaining your health. Don’t sacrifice it trying to get ahead, your performance (and health) will suffer.