How much rest we need changes over time, as do the things that keep us up at night. Here are tips for a lifetime of good sleep:
Editor’s note: Savvy mattress retailers want to do everything they can to help their customers sleep better, including offering them sound advice and tips. Feel free to share this great guidance from Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Lissa Coffey with your shoppers (with credit given, of course). The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
As human beings we need sleep, just as every animal does. But the amount of sleep we need and the factors that prevent us from getting that required sleep change as we age.
Let’s start at the beginning
Newborns sleep between 16 and 20 hours a day. Of course, as new parents know well, not all the hours a baby sleeps are in a row. It can be challenging to get little ones into a sleep routine during which they sleep through the night and their parents can, too. At 4 months of age, babies’ bodies want to sleep through the night, but they don’t always know how. Here are a few sleep strategies to try with your infant:
- Avoid using a pacifier for nighttime sleep. Some babies start to depend on a pacifier to get to sleep. The problem is that when the pacifier falls out at night, they don’t have the fine motor skills to put it back in their mouth. At about 8 months of age, they possess enough dexterity to manage a pacifier on their own.
- Play white noise. In utero, babies hear all kinds of muffled sounds and find this soothing. Use a fan or a white-noise machine or look online for some white-noise tracks to download to a music player.
- Work with your pediatrician to gradually cut back nighttime feedings so your baby doesn’t wake up and expect a bottle.
By 12 months of age, babies should sleep easily all through the night, for about 12 hours. Toddlers will take naps, but those will grow fewer as they get older. By age 6, children should get all their necessary sleep at night.
Moving into the ‘big kid’ bed
When children outgrow their crib and get their first “big kid” bed, they often want to delay bedtime and stay up. This is when lifetime sleep habits start to develop so it is important to get kids into a good sleep routine.
Have them participate in choosing their bedding. Allow them to select sheets featuring their favorite cartoon characters, for example, so they really look forward to bedtime. It is important to purchase a new mattress for your child that ensures she is comfortable and supported during sleep.
Keeping in mind that elementary-school-age children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep a night, look at the time your kids need to wake up and work backward to set their bedtimes. A good nighttime routine follows the three Bs: Bath, book, bed. The bath will help them relax. The book will give them quality time with a parent or caregiver as they read together. And then they’ll be ready to be tucked into bed with a goodnight kiss.
Teens crave sleep
Sleep needs change again when children reach adolescence. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm—a kind of internal clock that cues us when to fall asleep and when to wake up. Hormonal changes seem to affect this cycle, causing teenagers to prefer both staying up later at night and waking up later in the morning. But in many communities, high-school classes start early, meaning students often struggle with having to get up before they feel they’ve slept enough and then being tired during the day. In addition, teens spend a lot of time at school under artificial light and time at home staring at screens as they do homework and check their social media feeds. That, in turn, makes it more difficult to get to sleep.
During adolescence and even into college, kids grow quickly. Make sure their mattress is keeping up with them. Most college dorms provide extra-long twin beds for their students, but your child is not obligated to use that mattress. Feel free to purchase one to assure the quality sleep your child needs.
Here are some sleep tips for teens and college students:
- Make sure to get as much sunshine as you can every day.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, especially after 2 p.m.
- Take a warm bath or shower before bed to help you relax. It’s good to have a break between “screen time” and bedtime to help the brain prepare for sleep. Listen to soft music or do easy yoga stretches.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Shut down your computer and smartphone before you get into bed and keep them on the other side of the room. If light bothers you, invest in blackout shades or wear a sleep mask.
- If you need a snack before bed, keep it small. Carbohydrates will help you feel warm and sleepy. Graham crackers, a piece of toast or a few crackers with hummus are all good choices.
- In the morning, open the curtains wide and turn on lights to help you wake up more easily.
The older we get, the more likely we are to have trouble sleeping. Boston-based Harvard Medical School says that seven out of 10 adults experience problems that affect sleep quality. Women, in particular, experience sleep troubles over their adult lifetimes, many related to their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, new motherhood and menopause.
Chronic medical conditions that often come with age, such as arthritis, congestive heart failure and depression, can contribute to sleep problems. In addition, respiratory and digestive disorders can cause awakening during the night. Fortunately, when underlying medical disorders are treated, sleep often dramatically improves.
Restless legs syndrome, which results in an uncontrollable need to move the legs, makes it difficult to both fall asleep and stay asleep. One home remedy for RLS is putting a bar of soap under your sheets near your feet. No one knows why this works, but 40% of people who tried it had good results. You could use lavender soap to get the added relaxing aromatherapy benefits.
Because older adults have more trouble sleeping, they are more likely to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, causing them to unintentionally nod off during daytime activities. But sleep problems don’t have to be a part of aging.
Here are some tips that can help:
- Let your doctor know when you are experiencing sleep difficulties so that you can work together to solve the problem.
- If you require a nap, take it during the late morning to ensure it doesn’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Make sure to get exercise every day. Being up and active as much as possible during the day helps you feel sleepy at bedtime.
- If you are caring for an aging parent or grandparent, the best gift you can give is that of a good night’s sleep. An adjustable bed base that elevates the head and legs might be helpful to them.
Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. She writes for eight websites, including CoffeyTalk.com, WhatsYourDosha.com and the Better Sleep Council’s site, BetterSleep.org. A BSC spokeswoman, she stars in several videos that offer sleep and mattress-shopping tips for consumers.