Ask the Experts: Healthy Sleep Habits - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts: Healthy Sleep Habits

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We asked local experts to weigh in on the importance of sleep.

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: Sleep hygiene is one of those essential lessons we must teach our kids to help them grow up to be healthy adults. For school aged children, the American Pediatric Association recommends 9 to 12 hours of sleep at night. So what’s the big deal, how hard could that be? Actually, very hard when you factor in playtime, extracurricular activities, homework and dinner. And, children also suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out).

We all know from experience that kids who are tired get themselves into trouble, are cranky and struggle with attention. Research psychologist Dr. Joseph Buckhalt spent his career studying sleep in children. His research informs us that sleep deprivation causes additional problems at night for children. During sleep, the area of the brain that is responsible for retaining information is still communicating with the organizational part of our brain. This activity happens during slow wave sleep which is a deep resting state that takes time to achieve in our sleep cycle. Dr. Buckhalt reminds us that our children are introduced to new material every day and need extra deep sleep to be able to store it effectively. Lack of sleep negatively impacts the learning process.

Develop a very routine (a.k.a. boring) schedule that is approximately the same most days to beat the resistance. The hardest part will be in figuring out the time frame that you can be the most consistent with in the evening.

For example, bedtime is set for 9 p.m. for a 7 a.m. wake up if your child does best with ten hours of sleep. It is recommended that your child (and you) turn off all screens for one hour, so that means 8 p.m. is bath time and then jammies and teeth brushing. To cut down on dawdling, pick a juicy chapter book for reading time before lights out. If your kiddo has any spunk at all, you can expect push back until it becomes a habit, which takes time. Allow additional re-adjustment time for when you must vary the schedule for late night practices or travel.

It takes persistence and patience to get good sleep hygiene to stick, but it is worth it. Once the pattern is set everyone will sleep better.

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughter.

Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: Adequate sleep is crucial to young people’s development and functioning. I typically ask my clients and parents about sleep because lack of sleep can look like ADHD and behavioral problems as well as contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression. When kids do not sleep well, they struggle with learning, managing their emotions and controlling their behavior.

In infancy and toddlerhood, the name of the game is consistency and teaching self-soothing. At first, babies rely on adults to help them calm down and rest. As they develop, they need us to give them some time to practice falling asleep on their own. It is not unusual for young children to briefly wake up once or twice a night. If they know how to soothe themselves, they roll back over and snooze. If they do not have this skill, parents will get a nighttime interloper in bed or be awaken by cries.

A consistent bedtime and routine remain important throughout childhood. Try to shut screens off 30 to 60 minutes before you want them to be asleep. I often see teens dependent upon their TV or phone to fall asleep. Instead, it is preferred that young people to read, color, enjoy music, or engage in some other relaxing activity to help calm their bodies and minds.

Healthy eating and daily exercise help prepare bodies to fall asleep at night. Teaching time management skills can help young people manage their to-do list and reserve time to sleep as they enter the teen years. If it seems your adolescent refuses to go to bed early anymore, it is not their fault. Teens’ sleep clocks naturally start to shift as they mature so that they honestly will not feel tired until later at night. Unfortunately, early school start times are often at odds with what teens need developmentally.

Most of my adolescent clients are surprised to learn that their bodies need about as much sleep as they needed as toddlers. While naps can help them survive, long naps can interfere with sleep at night, setting up a cycle that is difficult to break. One of the most important things parents can do to encourage healthy sleep habits with teens is to get their screens out of their rooms. Teens sleep less soundly with their phones in their rooms, even when set to silent. Pick up an old school alarm clock and set up a charging station somewhere outside of bedrooms to help them learn to set this limit.


Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.

Courtney Chandler: Sleep is an essential part of human development. Sleep is the time for our bodies to actively restore and rejuvenate what was lost during the busy awake hours.  It is important to promote healthy sleep habits for children to help foster their growth and development and to establish healthy sleep patterns for later in life.

Look to a sleep chart to help identify how many hours of sleep a child may need based upon their age and work with your child to establish a consistent nighttime routine that helps the child transition to sleep more easily.

Decrease pre-bedtime stimulation by turning off TVs and electronics that emit “blue light” at least 30 minutes before bed, engage your child in calming and quiet activities to prepare them for sleep and provide your child with a bedroom environment that is conducive for sleep. As children get older, discuss with them the importance for sleep and maintain consistent routines that continue promoting healthy sleep habits.

Courtney Chandler is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy and play therapist working for Sunbeam Family Services, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma City. Courtney is passionate about the power of play therapy and enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

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