Sleep Hygiene – it’s not about washing your sheets

We’ve probably all heard the term "hand hygiene" – the sanitation police are all over hospitals and doctors offices plastering posters about how important it is to wash our hands. 

But what’s “sleep hygiene?”

You'll often see this term when reading sleep guidebooks and research. defines the word hygiene as “a condition or practice conducive to the preservation of good health, as cleanliness.”  So, sleep hygiene refers to the practice of sleep habits that lead to optimal health, not how often you wash your sheets (although I’m sure there’s a minimum on that too).

So what constitutes good sleep hygiene for our kids?  According to the American National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the “key features” include:

  • having a consistent bedtime routine
  • a bedtime before 9 p.m. (*more on that in a minute)
  • falling asleep independently
  • no TV (or other screen devices) in the bedroom
  • no caffeinated beverages
  • enough total sleep
  • not taking too long to fall asleep
  • no night wakings

A 2004 study by the NSF found that the two biggest factors in poor sleep hygiene for children of any age (newborn to 10) were:

  • having a parent present when the child falls asleep, as this resulted in more night wakings, and
  • a late bedtime – this resulted in children having a harder time falling asleep.

Wait – shouldn’t putting them to bed later make them more tired and help them fall asleep faster?!  That’s not logical!

Therein lies the problem. These little people aren’t logical. Just try explaining to a toddler that saving the last cookie means she gets to enjoy one tomorrow. Sleep begets sleep. That goes for all of us but it’s really obvious in babies and young children.

*It's important to note that "bedtime before 9 p.m." is a very general recommendation for children of all ages.  9 p.m. is simply way to late for a baby, toddler or preschooler.  These young ones should be tucked in with lights out by 7:30 at the latest in order to get an age-appropriate amount of sleep. It's also been found that the hours of sleep before midnight are more valuable than those after - so it's not enough to go to bed late and sleep in later to make up for it.

Back to the NSF study: for the 3-years-and-older age group, not having a consistent bedtime routine resulted in less total sleep time. That’s why tens of thousands of families have had remarkable success (and often claim happier children) after a sleep-training program with their baby, toddler or preschooler.  That melting down, crying-out-in-the-night child is craving routine and an ease of sleep.

Like anything that’s good for us, it takes an adjustment period to get there. Take, for example, getting fit.  Those first workouts, laps or runs don’t feel good. You can even get injured if you don’t start properly.

If your child has a prop like a soother or will only breastfeed to sleep, or needs you lying beside them in order to fall asleep, there is a gradual way to help them adjust. All you really need to give your child good sleep hygiene is a proven, effective plan and consistency on your part in carrying it out. Having a sleep coach guide and support you through the process virtually guarantees quick success.

We teach our kids how to wash their hands because it’s good for them. We can also teach them to sleep well – it is immeasurably good for them, not to mention the rest of the household.