You can promote your family’s happiness, well-being, and even their flourishing by building a healthy family environment. It sounds too simple…too good to be true, I know. But a survey study from the University of Otago in New Zealand confirms it. In this study, researchers collected data on the sleep habits, exercise habits, and dietary habits of 1,111 young adults. They found sleep quality to be the most important health behavior predicting mental health and well-being—more than sleep quantity, exercise, and diet. That’s not to say these other factors aren’t important. They are. For instance, sleep quantity impacted depressive symptoms and well-being. Interestingly, too little sleep (under 8 hours) AND too much sleep (over 18 hours) contributed to an increase in depressive symptoms and a decrease in well-being for young adults. That middle ground, 8-9.7 hours of sleep, seemed to be the sweet spot in giving the best results for mood and well-being. (For more on sleep and creating an environment to promote quality sleep, read Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep. The information can apply to all ages.)
Physical activity also had an impact on depressive symptoms and well-being (although not as significant an impact as sleep quality). In fact, previous studies have shown that even an hour of physical activity improves mood!
Finally, eating raw fruits and vegetables impacted mood and well-being. Once again, we have to aim for the sweet spot in fruit and vegetable consumption. Less than 2 servings OR more than 8 servings lowered well-being (but not depressive symptoms). The sweet spot for improving well-being through the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables fell at 4.8 servings a day. (Another study suggested 8 servings had the greatest impact.)
So, if you want your family to experience less depression and a greater sense of well-being, get a good night’s sleep, engage in some daily physical activity, and eat your vegetables and fruits. It is well worth it to see your children in a positive mood and feeling good.
My mother and my adult daughter were talking about childhood bedtimes recently. My daughter remembered having to go to bed during the long days of summer while the sun was still shining. Of course, I was the bad guy, the parent who made her go to bed in the daylight.
My mother found that amusing. It reminded her of how much I had complained as a child about going to bed during the long months of summer while the sun was still shining. Somehow, though, I was still the bad guy, the one who complained about going to bed early. In both cases I was the bad guy ( in good humor, of course). But, no fear. I reminded them that research is on my side. (You can imagine the rolling of the eyes as I bring this gem into the conversation.)
Research published in Acta Paediatric found that an early bedtime reduced the risk of obesity in a study of 1,258 six-year-old Indigenous Australian children. To summarize, the lead author simply noted that “establishing consistent and early bedtimes may reduce the risk that your child will be overweight or obese.”
I guess I can thank my parents now for setting an early bedtime for me as a child. And, my daughter can thank her mother and me for doing the same. Perhaps they can both acknowledge that I am not such as bad guy after all. I am just a guy looking out for my children’s future health. After quoting the authors statement, my daughter and my mother both said, “Go to bed. Just go to bed.” And wouldn’t you know, the sun was still shining!
Sleep is crucial for a child’s healthy development and mental health. (See Your Teen & The Importance of Sleep to learn how important sleep is for teen health.) Unfortunately, our world of constant busy-ness and digital stimuli does not lend itself well to healthy sleep routines. In fact, they make it all the more important for parents to help their children develop a healthy, effective, and independent bed-time routine. Even then, our children sometimes “lose the routine” because of bad dreams, transitions, changes in schedule…all kinds of things can impact the routine. I recently discovered three ideas to help establish an effective bed-time routine or get it back on track after it has been derailed. Maybe they will help in your family.
Have some practice sessions. We encourage our children to practice their sports, their spelling, their instruments. Why not practice their bedtime routine? These practice sessions don’t actually involve going to sleep. But they do involve going through the pre-bedtime routine. Brushing teeth, saying prayers, getting a snack, reading a book…whatever the routine you have established, go through it during the daytime. As you do, acknowledge how well your child does each step. Gush a little over their efforts and success. Make it fun and light-hearted. You want them to enjoy the routine and find it rewarding in and of itself.
Take a break. As you go through your child’s bedtime routine, lie down with them. Then let them know you need to take care of something (like use the restroom or turn off a light) and will be back in a minute. Leave the room, do something that takes a minute or so, return to your child, and lay back down with them. The next night leave for two minutes. The third night, 3 minutes. Each night leave for a minute or so longer. You get the idea. Always return just as you said but let the “break” take longer and longer. Your child will become more independent falling asleep alone.
“Excuse me” is an exercise very much like the take a break. However, in this one you note some chore (a 15-20 minute job) you have to get done. You let your child know you’re going to go take care of it and then come back in to check on them. Always keep your promise and come back to check. Even if they fall asleep (which we hope they do), check in and give them a kiss on the forehead. The next morning, acknowledge that they had fallen asleep when you returned. Let them know you kissed them on the forehead and, most important of all, let them know how proud you are of their ability to go to sleep on their own.
These ideas are not difficult. They take some time on your part as a parent. But, think of yourself as their sleep coach. Coaches always take a little time to teach their players a new skill. An added benefit of being your child’s sleep coach? You get to enjoy the time you spend with your child coaching them in the skill of sleep. (In fact, see The Top 4 Times for Parent-Child Talks for the best times to connect with your child.) Sleep tight.
A responsive spouse—one who not
only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion.
Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want
to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a
Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.
There you have it…another benefit
of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes
to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and
more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife
calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife
who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.
Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.” Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer. What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.? “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.” That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.
Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.
Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens? Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message. Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”
Avoid cell phones and other screens before bedtime. Do not use screens within 90 minutes of bedtime. Instead, read a book, relax, take a bath, and enjoy conversation. These activities will also limit the amount of blue light experienced before bedtime.
Turn your phone to “do not disturb” for the night-time. No need to answer every text or message received through the night. Set the phone to only allow certain numbers to get through, like messages from your children or parents…for emergencies only.
Remember the importance of sleep. A good night’s rest is much more important than Facebook or Instagram. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep/night (Learn more in Teenagers, Sleep and Blue Light). Lack of sleep limits a teen’s ability to listen and learn, contributes to acne, and increases agitation, even aggression. Lack of sleep also interferes with motivation, memory, and concentration. It even slows reflexes (Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep for more on the impact of sleep deprivation on teens). Recognizing the importance of sleep can increase our motivation to help our children develop a healthier pattern of sleep.
Curb cell phone usage in general. Set “phone boundaries” around meal times, family times, fun times…times when you will set the phone aside to focus on interactions with your family. Put the phone away so you can build intimacy and relationships.
Follow these four tips to defeat the digital enemy destroying your teen’s sleep. You might just gain a more rested—and pleasant—teen.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April, 2014, showed one source of conflict and aggression in marriage: glucose levels. Specifically, the lower the level of glucose in a person’s blood, the higher the level of aggressive impulses and the more likely they were to “blast their spouse” with a more intense and prolonged irritating noise. In other words, hunger can contribute to greater conflict and possibly even aggression. Reading this study reminded me of an important principle of healthy marriages and overall family life: Do not argue when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (H.A.L.T.). Another way of stating this principle is: Eat healthy, resolve anger quickly, develop healthy friendships, and establish healthy sleep hygiene for a healthy marriage and happy family. Briefly consider each of these principles.
Eat healthy rather than going hungry and devouring one another with irritability and harsh words. The study cited above highlights the need to eat healthy. A healthy diet can decrease agitation and irritation. It improves a person’s ability to learn. It also offers a great opportunity for the family to come together and build family relationships. (For more on the benefits of a healthy diet read Mom Was Right Again and Project Mealtime: A Sacred Expression of Love.)
Resolve anger quickly so no bitterness takes root and chokes out your family relationships. Unresolved anger lingers and bursts out at the most inopportune moments, damaging relationships and hurting feelings. For the sake of your marriage and family, resolve anger quickly. (Read Finish Your Family Business for more.)
Develop healthy friendships rather than trying to micromanage the lives of your spouse and children. If we intrude into the lives of our spouse or children by making them live our dream or shape their lives around our emotional needs, they may rebel against us, our ideals, and our values. Each person needs to develop their individual lives so they have more to bring to the relationship. Each person needs to develop friendships that allow them the opportunity to grow, learn, and resolve. (Check out Get Your Own Life; Leave Me Alone! to learn the benefit of this for your teen.)
Establish healthy sleep hygiene or you will find yourself too tired to invest energy into establishing healthy relationships. Sleep supports the immune system, facilitates learning, and improves mood. We have all seen our children grumpy because they’re tired. We have likely experienced our own grumpiness when tired. So, build healthy sleep habits into the fabric of your family. The whole family will benefit. (Click to learn about Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and Prime Your Children for a Good School Day.)
H.A.L.T. family conflict. Eat a healthy diet. Resolve anger quickly. Develop friendships. Establish healthy sleep hygiene.
Want to reduce anxiety and family stress? I learned a surprising way to do it. A study by Adam Hanley has documented a daily activity that reduces anxiety by 27%! This same activity increased “mental inspiration” in his test group by 25%. And, all this happened in response to a simple six minute activity—washing dishes! Wait, don’t quit reading yet. I know it sounds crazy; and, truthfully, it did include a little more than “just” washing dishes. Let me explain. In this study, two groups were asked to wash dishes. One performed the six-minute task in the usual way. They simply washed the dishes and let their mind wander from distraction to distraction. The second group was encouraged to focus on the sensory experience of washing dishes. They were told to focus on the smell of the soap, the feel and shape of the dishes, the sensation of the water and soap on their hands, etc. Doing the dishes in this manner, a “mindful manner,” resulted in the positive impact. It increased the perception of time slowing down, an enjoyable perspective for all of us who feel rushed. Focusing on the here and now sensations of washing dishes also decreased anxiety by 27% and increased “mental inspiration” by 25% compared to the control group.
This study focused on dishwashing, but the results suggest that performing any household task in a “mindful manner” (one in which you focus on the here and now sensations) may have a similar effect. Prior to this study, mindful activities have been shown to decrease negative moods and contribute to improved sleep. This study suggests mindful activities also give the pleasurable sensation of time slowing down, decreasing anxiety, and increasing mental inspiration. With all these benefits, why not make it a point to be mindful during all your household chores? While you’re at it, teach your kids to complete chores in a mindful manner. Imagine…a family that completes simple household tasks while focusing on the here and now sensations of that task, will become less anxious, less moody, filled with more mental inspiration, and find they sleep better. Sounds like a good deal to me!
Sleep. I cannot seem to get enough of it, but get too much and I feel groggy, tired out, and lethargic…go figure. Still, sleep is a soothing balm of restoration after a long day. As adults, we need about 7.5-8 hours of sleep a day for “optimal functioning.” Our teens need closer to 8-9 hours of sleep per day for optimal functioning. I only mention this because I hear so many parents struggling with their teen and sleep. I often meet teens who exhibit symptoms of not getting enough sleep, symptoms like irritability, impatience, mood swings, and even feelings of depression. Sleep deprivation will also increase hyperactivity while decreasing impulse control and frustration tolerance…not a good combination when it comes to social interactions. If that is not enough, sleep deprivation impairs memory, concentration, and attention span, interfering with academic success. And, sleep deprivation slows reflexes and limits problem-solving, impairing sports’ performance. We need our sleep. Teens need their sleep. A lack of sleep interferes with academic performance, athletic performance, mood, and social interactions.
Unfortunately, several factors interfere with teens getting enough sleep. One is biological. Hormonal changes impact a teen’s biological clock, shifting their sleep/wake cycle by one to two hours. In other words, a teen’s desire to stay up late and “sleep in” actually reflects normal hormonal changes. Of course, school, sports involvement, social activities, and after-school activities also interfere with a teen getting a full 8-9 hours of sleep. Part of our responsibility as parents is to teach our teen to work around the obstacles to sleep and develop habits conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. Doing so will help them function to at their best…academically, athletically, socially, and personally. To help, here are 6 tips to teach your teen about sleep:
Create a good sleep environment in the bedroom. This means keeping the bedroom dark at night. Even lights from phones, TV’s, and other electronics can interfere with sleep. So, turn off the electronics. Avoid the habit of falling asleep to the TV or while texting. Turn off the lights and enjoy the darkness that facilitates sleep.
Turn off cell phones, TV’s, video games, and other stimulating activities at least an hour before bedtime. An aroused mind has difficulty falling asleep. So turn off stimulating devices and games an hour before bedtime.
Develop a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine. When you stop texting and gaming, take the next step in preparing for a good night’s rest…relax. Read a book. Listen to relaxing music. Have a small snack. Take a hot bath. Whatever your teen chooses to help them relax, work with them to develop a soothing routine to prepare for bed.
Do not overschedule. When life becomes too hectic, it becomes difficult to unwind…for adults and teens alike. Good sleep habits demand that we schedule some time to unwind each evening. This can be difficult in today’s fast paced world. To find a balance between activity and rest, each person needs to learn to prioritize and make choices. Each person, your teen included, has to decide which activities to participate in and which activities they will “let go.” We cannot do it all…a lesson we all need to learn in order to get a good night’s sleep.
On the other hand, an inactive teen will also experience difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. An appropriately active lifestyle promotes good sleep. Encourage your teen to participate in an activity. Promote some outdoor activity since daily sunlight helps stabilize the sleep cycle.
As you to teach these sleep habits to your teen, practice them yourself. There is no better teacher than a good model! Your teen will learn from your example.
Sleep is essential to life. Teaching your teen good sleep habits will help them achieve their full potential academically, athletically, socially, and personally. So, do them a favor and get to bed!
It looks like Mom was right…again. (Don’t you hate having to admit that?) All this time I thought she was just torturing me by setting bedtime at 8 pm when I was little—even in the summer when the sun was still out! But, somehow Mom knew even before the researchers figured it out. Now, I don’t want this to go to your head Mom, but…you were right.
A study published on July 12, 2013, supports Mom’s bedtime and shows that children benefit from a regular bedtime. In this study, researchers met with over 10,000 children and their families. They completed home visits that included interviews with the family when the children were 3-, 5-, and 7-years-old. The home visit also included a cognitive assessment of the 7-year-olds. The results of this data suggested that not having a regular bedtime at 3 years of age was associated with lower scores in reading, math, and spatial relations for both genders when they reached 7-years of age. Not having a regular bedtime at 5-years of age was associated with lower scores in reading for 7-year-old girls and lower scores in math for 7-year-old boys. Even more disturbing, not having a regular bedtime throughout the preschool and early elementary years had a cumulative effect, lowering scores even more. (Read More on MedPage Today)
I know, you might think that not having a regular bedtime reveals a less structured and more chaotic family life; and, that lack of structure and the resulting chaos produced the lower test scores…that was my first thought as well. But, after carefully reading the study, I discovered that the researchers had accounted for that chaos and lack of structure. Not having a regular bedtime lowered scores in math, reading, and spatial relations for 7-year-olds independent of the structure in the home!
I learned two important lessons from this study. One, if you want your children to excel in school and develop strong skills in reading, math, and spatial relations, establish a reasonable bedtime for them early in life. Sure, this regular bedtime will change with age, but keeping a regular bedtime provides a necessary ingredient to healthy cognitive development.
Two, Mom was right. Thank-you for sticking with a regular bedtime…even when I pitched a fit about the sun being up…even when I pleaded…even when I threw out my many creative attempts to postpone bedtime. Thank-you for knowing the best thing to do for your kids…even before the researchers caught up with your smarts!