Power Down Screens at Bedtime

You don’t find many bedrooms these days without at least one screen – some kids even have televisions in their bedrooms. Now if your kids study in their bedrooms then a laptop or desktop computer is likely not easy to move out at night but encourage your kids to power them down. 

Screens and sleep really don’t mix well. The bright lights from screens can throw off the body’s clock by confusing the brain into thinking it is still daytime. And it can be so tempting to just do one last check for messages or social media posts before you turn the lights off and one hour later, you’re still on your phone!

Some parents report that having a table outside the bedrooms to rest all devices before bedtime works. Some youth will fight this practice as many teens, especially, use their phone alarms to wake them in the morning. How about an old fashioned alarm clock without a bright screen?

One parent shared a story that was so telling…The Dad enforced the family screen protocol and he was away for 2 weeks. The Mom didn’t follow through as it was not usually her role. She noticed her son seemed more tired and moody but then the school called as her son’s behaviour was not usual. He was falling asleep in class and his focus was noticeably off. The teachers felt something must be different at home. Guess what it was? He was on social media and texting his friends way past bedtime and not getting the 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep he needed. Within one week his behaviour was noticeably different. Scary! Can you imagine what would have happened if he continued on this path for months? 

You may feel like you are a mean parent by setting screen time boundaries  but it is your job and it is best for everyone.

Back to School

The end of a relaxing summer and the start back into September routine can be a stressful time for all of us. One way to manage these feelings is to try to get back into a schedule and routine. Here a few things to consider:

1. Sleep—in the summer, we can quickly get out of our usual sleep routine, staying up late and sleeping in more. In the week leading up to the start of school, try to make the usual bedtime a priority and inch closer to the wake-up time that will be required for September. We may sleep less overall in the summer with longer daylight hours, but it’s so key for optimal mental and physical health to get the appropriate hours of sleep. The Canada’s 24 Hour Movement Guidelines recommend children 5 to 13 years old get 9-11 hours of sleep and 14 to 17 year olds need 8-10 hours per night with consistent bed and wake-up times. Lack of sleep can make anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating worse.

2. Activity—ensuring we get the recommended amount of activity each day can set us up for optimal health, both physical and mental. It can also tire us out so we sleep better! In the summer, there may have been more time for family activities like swimming, hiking and biking, but as we head into the fall, work and school priorities may get in the way. Children 5-17 need 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity each day that gets their heart rate elevated. If that’s not going to happen through sports and activities, it needs to happen at home and after school is the best time to do it. Do you have space to set up a small home gym or a basketball hoop? Is there a yoga or dance class that they enjoy doing online? Or can you get out to your local park for a run or a game of catch? Creating an afterschool routine of activity will help to shake off any anxiety or stress that has accumulated through the day.

3. Screen Time—the recommendation is to limit to a maximum of 2 hours of recreational screen time per day, although many families find that restricting recreational screen time Monday-Thursday can allow for a better routine of homework, physical activity and family mealtime.

4. Eating—packing a healthy lunch is a great way to ensure kids have the energy they need to learn and be active at school. Get them involved from the earliest age to help build their food literacy and get their buy-in about what gets packed. Use the Canada’s Food Guide (https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/) plate model to pack a balanced lunch with half coming from vegetables and fruit. Prep these the night before to save time in the morning or choose produce that comes ready-to-eat like mini-cucumbers, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, apples, pears and oranges. Include a protein source like smoked or baked tofu, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, hummus or a sandwich made with canned salmon, tuna, cooked chicken, nut or seed butter (depending on the allergen restrictions in your child’s classroom). Be sure to choose whole grain bread or crackers as the fibre and nutrients will provide more lasting energy and overall better health than refined grain products. As a change, try a hot lunch by sending a thermos of leftovers like pasta, curry or stew. Don’t forget a water bottle.

Then prioritize a family dinner where you can come together and share the positives and negatives from everyone’s day. Talking through the changes can help to alleviate the anxiety that may be building.

Rest is Best!

In the summer, it is so easy to get out of routine, especially when it comes to sleep. With the longer daylight hours, it can be challenging to get kids to bed early. And if there’s no need to rush out the door to work in the morning, it can be tempting to sleep in. Although we can manage this temporarily, a shortage of sleep or an irregular pattern of sleeping will catch up eventually and you may start noticing these signs or symptoms of it becoming an issue:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Stress
  • Poor mental health
  • Difficulty staying awake in the day
  • Difficulty learning/concentrating
  • Low energy/lethargy
  • Irritability

Ensuring we get enough sleep can optimize physical health, emotional well-being and quality of life. Children 5-13 need 9-11 hours each night, teenagers 14-17 need 8-10 hours and adults need 7-9 hours. But it’s not just about the length of sleep, it’s also about the quality of sleep. Many children and adults have trouble falling or staying asleep or do not find their sleep refreshing.

So, as we wind down the last few weeks of summer and have to prepare for the start of our fall activities, consider shifting back into a healthy sleep routine. After a family dinner, consider a relaxing walk in the neighbourhood to help digest and burn off any excess energy. Then skip the screens! The blue light from televisions, phones and tablets can disrupt our melatonin cycle—the key sleep hormone—and provide stimulation that can prevent us from becoming tired naturally. Instead, opt for reading a book or even meditation or relaxation techniques, perhaps a warm shower or bath.

On the subject of phones, best practice is to keep them out of the bedroom and use a clock instead. Otherwise it can be tempting to engage if you check the time in the night and see a message or notification. For teens, consider managing the phone charger so that you take possession of the phone each evening and prevent them from being on it too long and too late.

For more information, check out this Health Canada infographic: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-children-getting-enough-sleep-infographic.html

And to understand if lack of sleep may be impacting your teen’s physical and emotional health, https://www.uclahealth.org/sleepcenter/sleep-and-teens 

The 5-2-1-0 Rule and How to Live by It

Introducing a healthier lifestyle to your child can seem a little daunting. With the 5-2-1-0 rule though, not only can it help your entire family become healthier, it can be an empowering and rewarding experience. The 5-2-1-0 rule follows four simple guidelines that encourage every aspect of a healthier lifestyle.

“5” is the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that your child should aim to eat each day. Vegetables and fruit provide a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants important for promoting and protecting good health.

Fruits and vegetables are easy to incorporate into one’s diet; it’s especially important to serve during every meal or snack your child has. Salads, smoothies, stews, and vegetable stocks are some of the easy dishes that you and your child can enjoy.

“2” is the maximum number of hours of recreational screen time that your child should have per day.  One way to prevent too much screen time is not to allow your child to have a television in their room. In reducing the number of hours of screen time, this will aid in encouraging a more active lifestyle.

“1” is the ideal number of hours of physical activity your child should have per day. Physical activity can improve your child’s physical and mental health. Sixty minutes of moderate physical activity – or 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity – can be achieved through fun and engaging activities for your child, such as tag games, playing outdoors, biking, hiking, or a game of soccer. Being active together as a family can further encourage an increase in physical activity. Family outings such as going to the zoo, ice skating, or miniature golf will not only help your child be more active, but also aid in positioning parents as positive and engaged role models.

“0” is the number of sugary drinks your child should consume. Keep beverages like water handy and avoid such sugar-added drinks like slushies, sports drinks, soda, energy drinks and flavoured milks. While some juices do not have added sugars, they do contain natural sugars. In order to fulfill five or more servings a day, pack your child fresh fruit as opposed to a juice box.

The 5-2-1-0 rule makes introducing and following a healthy lifestyle simple, in that it outlines an easy-to-follow set of guidelines. It also directly aligns with the Family Healthy Living Program.

The program supports families in making changes to healthy behaviours such as healthy eating, physical activity, screen time and sleep that support your child’s own health behaviours. The program is focused on practical, fun activities that build family connectedness while building both the parent/caregiver’s and the child’s skills to make lasting changes. The program also incorporates positive mental health activities that build resilience and self confidence and help to enhance overall well-being.

Living a healthy lifestyle can greatly affect the overall wellbeing of a child, from his or her happiness to setting a healthy tone for your child’s entire life. Introducing a young child to the 5-2-1-0 rule will encourage him or her to continue these practices into the child’s teenage and adult years.

The Family Healthy Living Program is currently available in 10 communities in British Columbia and is delivered at local recreation centres by trained leaders who will support your family in the changes to your physical activity and eating habits.

Learn more about the Family Healthy Living  program, including how your family can benefit and programs running near you.