Sleep is an essential part of your child’s mental and physical health. But if you can’t help your child sleep, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that sleep disorders affect 25-50% of children and 40% of adolescents.
Studies have shown that children who get enough regular sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health, while inconsistent sleep schedules and disrupted sleep can lead to health problems and affect your child’s brain development.
How much sleep does my child need?
Understanding their sleep needs is the first step to providing better sleep for your children. Each child is unique and the recommended hours of sleep largely depend on their age.
• Newborn to 2 years old: Bedtime and naptime are very productive times for your baby and toddler, and it’s no surprise they spend most of their sleeping days. Sleep has important effects on growth, especially during infancy. In toddlers, naps appear to be necessary for memory consolidation, attention, and motor skill development. It is recommended that infants and toddlers under 2 years old sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day.
• Ages 3 to 12: Children in preschool and elementary school need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night. During these years, a child’s brain and body continue to develop at a rapid rate, and adequate sleep promotes healthy development. Sleep restores the resources that were used during the day, which is very important in young active children. A well-rested brain can solve problems, learn new information, and enjoy the day much more than a tired brain. Certain areas of your child’s brain are even more active during sleep.
• Teenagers: Teenagers are recommended to spend between 8 and 10 hours per night. Teens love to label themselves “night owls”, exchanging stories of sleepless nights and sleeping an entire Saturday. Although teens and their sleep patterns can be difficult for parents, it’s not entirely your child’s choice as these sleep patterns are a response to the physical changes that occur during puberty. During these developments, adolescents experience a natural change in circadian rhythm that makes it harder for them to fall asleep. Add to that early school start times and increased homework, extracurricular activities, and sometimes part-time work, and sleep deprivation in teens becomes common.
Tips to Encourage Healthy Sleep Habits
With all the demands placed on your family, trying to get your kids to bed at a decent hour sometimes feels like an uphill battle. However, the importance of your children’s sleep schedule cannot be overstated. Consider the following tips to help your child go to bed at a decent hour and fall asleep quickly.
• Set a consistent bedtime. Set a bedtime, regardless of your children’s ages, and stick to it as much as possible. This will likely mean that other aspects of the evening will also need to be scheduled. This may vary depending on the day of the week, but try to keep the same or nearly the same schedule each day. It is especially important to keep weekend waking times as close to weekday waking times as possible.
• Keep a bedtime routine. In addition to the schedule, have a standard bedtime routine, especially for elementary school students. Have a snack, take a bath, read books and brush your teeth. Whatever your nighttime routine, keep it the same to prepare your child for sleep by following the same steps.
• Cut out things that prevent your child from sleeping. Studies have shown that light from TVs, tablets and smartphones can affect our biological clock and make it difficult to fall asleep. Set screen-free time an hour or more before bedtime to help your child fall asleep. In addition to screens, try to avoid caffeine, strenuous exercise, sugary foods, and too much liquid before bed.
• Create a safe space conducive to sleep. Make sure your child’s bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Include soft, comforting blankets or favorite stuffed animals on the bed.
• Schedule time for a nap. Parents know that naps are essential for young children, however, they remain beneficial over the years as they grow. Kids are busy and sometimes 10 hours of sleep a night is hard to come by. If your child is tired during the day, encourage him to take a 20-minute nap after school. Short naps can provide energy while allowing them to fall asleep at their usual bedtime.
• Avoid using over-the-counter sleeping pills before talking to your doctor. The use of such drugs can be counterproductive if this practice supplants the use of more effective and longer lasting behavioral treatments.
A good night’s sleep prepares your child for a better day, with less moodiness and better concentration. It also promotes better overall health. Plus, when your child isn’t sleeping, chances are you aren’t either.
If your child has trouble sleeping or staying asleep, or if you are concerned about your child’s sleeping habits, do not hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician. He or she can help you with possible opportunities to change sleep patterns, identify possible health issues affecting sleep, or refer you to a sleep specialist to further assess your child’s sleep patterns.
Olufunke Oladejo, MD, is a pediatrician at UPMC Pediatrics and sees patients at UPMC Williamsport, 700 High St., 9th Floor, Williamsport. To make an appointment with Dr. Oladejo, call 570-321-2810. For more information, visit UPMC.com/PediatricsNCPA.