Quality sleep is key to your child’s growth, development and well-being. Good sleep habits start from birth and a lack of sleep affects your child’s behavior, attention span and memory. In fact, in 2015 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared insufficient sleep a public health problem.
Developing good sleep habits involves everything from the environment of your little one’s bedroom to their wind-down time right before bed. Dr. Lili Poon, a pediatric sleep specialist with Novant Health Pediatric Sleep Specialists, offered some tips for helping your children get the sleep they need.
How much sleep does my child need?
Every child is different, and his or her needs for sleep may vary. Babies, children and teenagers require more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical development. Parents can follow the guidelines set forth by the National Sleep Foundation for how many zzz’s their little ones should be getting.
- Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours
- Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours
- School-aged children (6 to 13 years): 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 to 10 hours
- Young adults (18 to 25 years): 7 to 9 hours
“It’s important to have a bedtime routine which subconsciously is ‘a yellow brick road’ to sleep,” Poon said. “Avoid letting your child spend lots of nonsleep time in bed. Keeping activities separate from the bed allows them to associate the bed with restful sleep.”
Ask everyone who takes care of your child to follow the same routine.
Children put to bed drowsy but still awake have more success falling asleep on their own. Letting them fall asleep other places forms habits that are difficult to break. “If a child is awake in bed tossing and turning, it’s better for them to get out of bed and do a low-stimulation activity, such as reading or coloring, and return to bed in 30 minutes,” Poon said. This keeps the bed from becoming associated with sleeplessness, which can trick the brain into keeping you up later.
Melatonin, the hormone our bodies produce that regulates sleep and wakefulness, can be decreased with exposure to light. “Don’t allow your child to engage in high-stimulation activities just before bed, such as playing video games or watching television. Limit screen time at least an hour before bed to help curb sleeplessness and allow for melatonin to facilitate the child to fall asleep,” Poon said. “It’s okay to have electronics in the bedroom as long as they are not used or watched while in bed.”
If your child is not drowsy by bedtime, Poon recommends allowing the child to engage in a quiet activity until they are sleepy. This way, they will fall asleep more quickly once they get into bed.
Why isn’t my child sleeping?
In many cases, sleep deprivation in children can be helped by creating a healthy sleep environment and initiating a bedtime routine. Poon stresses the importance of creating a “peaceful respite” for your child where they enjoy going to sleep.
“With healthy sleep habits and a relaxing sleep environment, your child may even look forward to bedtime,” she added.
When a child is drowsy, they don’t necessarily slow down like adults. Sleepiness can manifest as restlessness and hyperactivity in children, winding them up instead of winding them down.
“If children are overtired, they can have behavioral issues, emotional instability and trouble focusing and paying attention,” Poon said. “Sometimes there are underlying conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety or sleep apnea, which can cause sleep loss in children.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children be screened for sleep apnea at their annual well visit.
What happens when a child is sleep deprived?
A lack of sleep can cause poor school performance, problems with attention and memory, mood changes, headaches, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity, and weight gain. To help your child sleep better at night, Poon recommends eliminating naps in the afternoon if they are past regular napping age. You should also cut down on caffeine and keep them on a schedule with the same sleep and wake times.
If your child is having trouble sleeping, it may be time to see a pediatrician. To connect with a local Novant Health pediatrician, visit NovantHealth.org/pediatrics.