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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsSleep hygiene refers to practices or things that we can do to ensure that we regularly manage to get a good night of sleep. Most of these things are actually common sense, but we tend to overlook them due to busy lifestyles or bad habits that we are simply unaware of as being possibly detrimental to our sleep. There are many things that we can do to improve our sleep. And although the focus of this course is on early childhood, many of these good sleep hygiene practices are also relevant for older children and adults too. For newborns, this is obviously very difficult.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 secondsHowever, within the first few months, infants begin to develop a sleep-wake cycle, and having a routine can help to consolidate the development of this. Keeping regular times for going to bed at night and getting up in the morning helps to set our internal body clock and maintain our 24 hour circadian rhythm. Obviously, the occasional late night or early morning is OK, but if this becomes a more common occurrence, then it is problematic for sleep and health. There are many small but important things that can be done to improve the sleeping environment and make it more conducive to sleep.

Skip to 1 minute and 13 secondsThe bedroom should be dark and free from distractions, such as toys, lights from alarm clocks or other electronic devices, and anything that makes sounds or vibrations that could disturb sleep during the night. It is also important that the temperature is not too hot or cold. And finally, to avoid children associating the bedroom with fun, games, or activity in general, the bedroom should be kept as a place for sleeping only. The overuse of screen and electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and mobile devices can hamper sleep. There are three main ways in which screen time can affect sleep.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 secondsTiming, so the use of electronic media can lead to delays in children's bedtimes, which simply results in less time being available for sleep. Content, engaging the brain with exciting or provocative information before bed, such as is associated with video games and many mobile device applications, may trigger emotional and hormonal responses, like the release of adrenaline, which can reduce the ability to fall and stay asleep. And light emissions. Light from electronic devices can disrupt the body's natural occurring circadian rhythm that we've been talking about, increasing alertness and suppressing the release of the hormone melatonin, which is important for regulating our sleep-wake cycle. To avoid these negative impacts of screen use, some simple tips can be followed.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 secondsWe can set a bed time for media devices. Ideally, this should happen one or two hours before children go to sleep. Also, no screen time devices in the bedroom. The bedroom should be for sleeping only. We can also replace screen time with exercise during the day. We know that exercise is good for health and well-being generally, however, it is also important for sleep, with evidence showing that regular exercise can improve sleep. We can also engage in relaxing activities prior to sleep. Your body needs time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Therefore, anything that can stimulate the body should be avoided in the hours immediately before bed.

Skip to 3 minutes and 18 secondsIn particular, things like exercise, which raises the body temperature and is not conducive to falling asleep, or eating a big meal. And of course, screen time and bright light, as we mentioned before, should be avoided. Also try to get exposure to natural light. Light is the most important cue for the regulation of our body's circadian rhythm, and it has a strong impact on our sleep and on our sleep-wake patterns in general. Just as bright light at night can disrupt our body's naturally occurring circadian rhythms by suppressing the release of melatonin, light in the morning and early in the day is particularly helpful in synchronizing these daily rhythms and our body clock.

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 secondsTherefore, a walk in the morning is particularly beneficial, giving children exposure to bright early morning sunlight and also incorporates exercise, two things that we know to be advantageous for healthy sleep.

Optimising and prioritising sleep

In this video we discuss tips for good sleep hygiene, including the following.

Develop a routine: Be consistent with regular times for going to bed at night and getting up in the morning as this routine helps set the internal body clock and maintain its 24-hour circadian rhythm.

Optimise the sleep environment: The bedroom should be dark and free from distractions and noise that could disrupt sleep through the night. The temperature should also not be too hot or cold.

Avoid excessive screen time: Set a ‘bed time’ for media devices and don’t allow them in the bedroom during the night. This is important because engaging the brain with exciting or provocative information before bed may trigger emotional and hormonal responses (like adrenalin), which can reduce the ability to fall and stay asleep. Also, light from electronic devices can disrupt the body’s natural occurring circadian rhythm, increasing alertness and suppressing the release of the hormone melatonin, which is important for regulating our sleep-wake cycle.

Promote exercise during the day: Make time for physical activity and exercise throughout the day to facilitate and improve sleep patterns throughout the night.

Engage in relaxing activities prior to sleep: Avoid activities that stimulate the mind and body in the hours immediately before bed such as exercise, eating and screen time.

Get exposure to natural light: Expose children to bright early morning light as it is the most important cue for the regulation of the body’s circadian rhythm.

Conversation starter

  • Have you tried any of these strategies with children? If so, what was their effect on sleep?

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This video is from the free online course:

Preventing Childhood Obesity: an Early Start to Healthy Living

University of Wollongong

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