Sleep hygiene , which includes practices like providing a cool and quiet sleeping environment or reading before bed time to help kids unwind, is increasingly popular among parents looking to ensure their children get a good night's rest. But are these practices all they are cracked up to be? University of British Columbia sleep expert and nursing professor Wendy Hall recently led a review of the latest studies to find out.

"Good sleep hygiene gives children the best chances of getting adequate, healthy sleep every day, and healthy sleep is critical in promoting children's growth and development ," said Hall. "Research tells us that kids who do not get enough sleep on a steady basis are more likely to have problems at school and develop more slowly than their peers who are getting enough sleep."

The UBC review aimed at systematically analyzing the evidence for sleep hygiene across different countries and cultures, and honed in on 44 studies from 16 countries. The focus was on four age groups in particular: infants and toddlers (four months to two years), preschoolers (three to five years), school-age children (six to 12 years) and adolescents (13 to 18 years). These studies involved close to 300,000 kids in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Sleep Hygiene Practices

"We found good-to-strong endorsement of certain sleep hygiene practices for younger kids and school-age kids: regular bedtimes, reading before bed, having a quiet bedroom, and self-soothing – where you give them opportunities to go to sleep and Go back to sleep on their own, if they wake up in the middle of the night, "said Hall.

Even for older kids, keeping a regular bedtime was important. The review found papers that showed that adolescents whose parents set strict guidelines about their sleep slept better than kids whose parents did not set any guidelines.

"One big problem with school-age children is it can take them a long time to get to sleep, so avoiding activities like playing video games or watching exciting movies before bedtime was important," said Hall.

Information provided by Chinese studies and one Korean study linked to school-age children's and adolescents' short sleep duration to long commute times between home and school and large amounts of evening homework. With more children coping with longer commutes and growing amounts of school work, Hall says this is an important area for future study in North America.

While Hall said more studies were needed to examine the effect of certain sleep hygiene factors on sleep quality, she would still strongly recommend that parents set bedtimes, even for older children, and things like sitting down for a family dinner, establishing certain rituals like reading before bed, and limiting screen time as much as possible.

Sleep education 

"Sleep education can form part of school programming ," added Hall. "There was a project in Montreal school where everyone was involved in designing and implementing a sleep intervention – the principal, teachers, parents, kids, and even the Parent Advisory Council from the outset."