Let’s face it. We live in a stressful world. Some teens respond to the stresses of life by acting impulsively, seeking immediate rewards over delayed gratification. However, not all adolescents respond to the stresses of life with impulsive behaviors. Some still delay gratification. Why? One of the factors that seems to contribute to whether or not a teen will act impulsively in response to stress is a lack of sleep during late childhood. Isn’t that interesting? Sleep deprivation during late childhood can impact impulsiveness in the teen years. In fact, in a study of 11,858 children from 9-10 years of age, lack of sleep and difficulty falling asleep was strongly associated with impulsive behavior in the teen years. Lack of sleep was also associated with less perseverance and more thrill-seeking behavior in adolescence in this study.
With that in mind, if you want to limit the risk of impulsive behavior in your children’s teen years, establish a healthy bedtime and sleep routine during childhood. What’s involved in a healthy sleep routine?
- Set a consistent bedtime. Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body recognize it is bedtime, time to sleep. This will help your child get a better night’s sleep on a more consistent basis.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This routine for children might include a warm bath, brushing teeth, and spending time recalling things they enjoyed during the day. If necessary, resolve any incidents that aroused negative emotions during the day. Finally, read a book together. Read your children a story book or, as they get older, let them read to you.
- Help your child “set aside” their worries for the night. If your child has worries that keep them awake, try “giving” their worries to a “worry doll” and putting that doll in another part of the house. Or they can spend a short time writing in a journal, putting all their thoughts and worries on the paper of the journal before “closing it up” and “setting it aside” for the night. Pray together that God will take care of their worries.
- Take all screens out of the bedroom and stop using electronics at least half an hour before bedtime. Screens have an arousing quality. Screens in a bedroom often seem to result in children needing the noise of the screen to fall asleep. No screens in the bedroom.
- Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet. Maintain a comfortable temperature. Our bodies and minds will relax more easily in a quiet, dark space.
- Avoid emotional discussions or movies before bedtime. Emotional movies and interactions arouse us and interfere with our sleep.
- Give your child a “security object” like a stuffed animal or a soft blanket. This can help increase their sense of security and comfort when they are in their room without a parent.
- Avoid caffeine after supper. Caffeine can have stimulating effects on your child, making it hard for them to go to sleep.
By establishing a healthy bedtime routine with your child, you are doing more than encouraging a good night’s sleep (although that is also a great benefit of a healthy bedtime routine). You are establishing a routine that will impact their emotional health for a lifetime, like increasing their ability to manage stress, decreasing the possibility of excessive amounts of impulsive behaviors in their teen years, and increasing their energy to work toward long-term rewards rather than settling for the more impulsive short-term reward. That sounds like an amazing investment, doesn’t it?