In honor of World Sleep Month, we’ve decided to connect you with an amazing sleep expert and scientist to dive into why sleep is so important for both us and our little ones, as well as provide some top-level sleep tips. Dr. Azizi Seixas is an Assistant Professor with a deep-rooted passion for sleep with a specialism in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and health technology. With over 100 publications and credited appearances on media outlets such as CBS, CNN, NBC, The Associated Press, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post, as well as being a husband and father to two, Dr. Azizi Seixas is able to touch on all sides of why sleep is vital – scientifically and as a loving parent.
Lessons from a Sleep Expert and a Sleep-aholic
Meg (sleep-aholic) and I (sleep expert) view sleep differently. Meg sees sleep as an intimate experience. She cannot wait to get to sleep because it’s her happy place. I, on the other hand, see sleep as a business interaction. I need it to do the things I want to do the next day while promoting a healthy lifestyle and preventing poor health. After all, that’s how I was trained.
In spite of our differing attitudes toward sleep for ourselves, our views about sleep for our children are the same, establishing a healthy routine and belief system about sleep and supporting our children as their bodies develop their own sleep habits and patterns. It’s a match made in heaven for sweet dreams. I bring the expertise of science, and Meg brings the practicality of a mom who knows her children extremely well and what will get them to sleep. It’s like science and magic!
Our sleep patterns are unique, like fingerprints, and some experts believe that no two nights of sleep are exactly the same. So how do we promote normalcy and routine? You see, the only thing we can control are the behaviors leading to sleep. The goal is to establish consistent routines 2-3 hours before our children go to sleep. We try not to be too rigid because you need to leave space for your child’s sleep routine to be flexible and adaptive. If not, you and your child will have a hard time when the routine is disrupted. Let’s say when you go on vacation and everything is new, it’s impossible to follow your routine precisely because the new environment alone messes everything up. Trust me, it has happened to us and vacation was not fun for anyone when our children could not get their sleep!
March is World Sleep Month, and we have teamed up with the Moshi sleep app to provide sleep health tips and insights for your children and family so that they, and YOU (let’s not fool ourselves that this is all about our children, we benefit too), can get some much-needed zzzzzzzz’s!
In general, children need a lot more sleep than adults. Children need more sleep because sleep supports and facilitates normal and proper biological development of the brain, nervous system, and establishes a biological rhythm that is cued with the day (sunlight) and night (darkness). Sleep should not be seen as an isolated activity separate from other activities when the child is awake. We have learned this raising two children who, like every child, have each had their own struggles with sleep.
Here are some scientific and practical strategies and routines we used to help our children and ourselves experience healthy and satisfying sleep:
Newborns (0-3 months)
Newborns need about 11-18 hours of sleep over the course of a day because their bodies are on a development fast track and are burning a lot of energy. Every day is new to newborns and to help them make meaning of this new world, their brains are in overdrive decoding new information. It’s like they are getting a crash course on life each day. It’s a lot for them to process so they get tired easily.
Sleep Tips: Newborns like to feel close and tight to something, just like when they were in their mom’s belly, and love to hear various white noises. Moshi Sleep has several tracks that create white, velvet, and pink noise which is perfect for recreating womb-like environments.
Infants (4-11 months)
Infants need about 12-16 hours of sleep over the course of a day including multiple naps. Sleep, however, might be hard for them because as they get more attached to caregivers, they can feel anxious when left to sleep by themselves.
Sleep Tips: Although some infants like to be swaddled tightly, others might actually not like their arms to be restricted. Infants can move a lot, sometimes sporadically, which is natural as the nervous system develops. Test different swaddle options, such as the Hands Up swaddle or Burrito Wrap swaddle, as your infant grows and develops their own sleep preferences.
Toddlers (1-2 years)
Toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep over the course of a day. Generally, they like to have a ‘transitional object’ from the caregiver, like a blanket or stuffed animal, to help them get to sleep easily.
Sleep Tips: Make bedtime a positive experience. For example, choose a bedtime activity that will get your child excited for bed, e.g. reading, playing who can get to bed the fastest, singing songs, etc. Creating a positive experience can help make bedtime more enjoyable for both your little ones and yourself!
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Preschoolers need about 11-13 hours of sleep, typically without napping required. Children start to experience and remember more lucid dreams and nightmares that can affect their sleep at this stage in development.
Sleep Tips: Children at this stage start to feel that they are missing out on fun things when they go to sleep. Find something that is strictly for bedtime and only for your child, such as a sleepy storytime using the Moshi Sleep app. Meg first discovered Moshi when our daughter began resisting sleep at this age. She would come back downstairs multiple times a night complaining that she wasn’t sleepy. When Meg began using the Moshi Stories, it was something that kept her body in bed and gave her something to look forward to each night.
School-aged (6-12 years)
School-aged children need about 9-11 hours of sleep daily. They may have several distractions around sleep time and thus may resist bedtime. Poor sleep and sleep deprivation may lead to hyperactive behaviors in school.
Sleep Tips: Teach your child about the importance of sleep and connect bedtime with something they love to do. For example, if they are athletes, telling them it will help them play well in their next game could work. Mindfulness or meditation exercises will also help school-age children quiet their minds and bodies which helps prepare for sleep. Our daughter has created her own bedtime routine that combines a few exercises then she listens to a Moshi Story playlist to fall asleep. The fact that Moshi adds new bedtime stories, meditations, sounds and music weekly means she never gets bored!
Teenagers (13-19 years)
Teenagers need 9-11 hours of sleep to promote healthy brain development. Teenage brains are still developing which means they need good quality sleep to ensure a certain portion of their brain that is responsible for judgment and emotion regulation is fully developed. Teenagers have undeveloped brains in adult bodies, which is why they feel grown but are not fully ready to be grown.
Sleep Tips: Avoid screens that produce blue light. Exposure to blue light before bed suppresses an important hormone called melatonin that helps induce sleep. Teenagers are also encouraged to avoid stressful homework and experiences (like being on the phone) at least 1 hour before bedtime. Modeling is crucial at this age.
Dr Azizi’s Top 5 Sleep Tips
- Stay away from heavy meals 2 hours before bed
- Avoid exercise 2-3 hours before bed – high body temperature can make it difficult to sleep
- Avoid bright light, especially blue light from mobile devices and excessively bright LED lights at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Try to keep a consistent routine/sleep schedule when putting your little ones to bed; including the time and activities leading up to their lights going out
- Ensure their sleep environment is conducive and a sanctuary for sleep; comfortable pillows, dark room, optimal temperature, and only soothing sounds
For more tips and guidance on how to enjoy a better night’s sleep visit:
Dr. Azizi Seixas & The Moshi Team