Making Sure Your Kids Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Filed under Pediatrics

Sleep is important to the health of children of all ages. Adequate rest helps to prevent illness, as well as improves mood and behavior. How much sleep does your child need?  How can you help your child get the best sleep possible?  How can you yourself get some sleep as well?  Read on for a better night’s sleep.

  • Infants need 9 to 12 hours of sleep during the night and 2 to 5 hours of sleep during daytime hours (naps lasting from 20 minutes to 2 hours).
  • Toddlers (1 to 3 years of age) need 12 to 14 hours of sleep over a 24 hour time period, usually a nap after lunch lasting 1 ½  to 3 hours.
  • Preschoolers ( 3 to 5 years of age) need 11 to 13 hours of sleep; some need a day time nap and some outgrow the nap at 3 to 4 years old
  • School age children (6 to 12 years of age) need 10 to 11 hours of sleep
  • Teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep

Signs of sleep deprivation in a child can include:

  • Mood.  Sleep deprivation may cause your child to be moody, irritable and cranky. In addition, he/she may have a difficult time regulating moods. Older children may become easily frustrated or be upset more easily. Infants and toddlers may be fussy or have more temper tantrums.
  • Behavior. School-aged children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have behavior problems, such as defiance and hyperactivity. Teenagers who are sleep deprived are more likely to engage in risk taking behaviors, such as drinking and driving fast.
  • Cognitive Ability.  Inadequate sleep may result in problems with attention, memory, decision making, reaction time and creativity—all of which are important for school performance. Studies show that teenagers who get less sleep are more apt to get poor grades in school, have more tardiness/absences and fall asleep at school.

Here are some recommendations to help your child get the best sleep, to fall asleep easily, and maintain sleep.

  • Sleep schedule. The bed time and wake time should be consistent from day to day, not more than an hour difference from school day to non school day.
  • Bedtime routine.  A routine that last 20 to 30 minutes is best. Calm activities, books and reading are best. Avoid activities that require the parent’s presence, like rocking or holding to help the child get to sleep.
  • Sleep environment.  Background noises, location, sleep partners, bedding, favorite toys, temperature of the room and lighting can all affect a child’s ability to fall asleep and maintain sleep.
  • Sleep only zone.  Remove most toys, games, TVs, computers and video games from the bedroom.
  • Caffeine.   Avoid drinks with caffeine after 3 p.m.
  • Daytime routines.  Consistent schedules and regular mealtimes and playtimes also help to improve night time routines.
  • Exercise.   Daily exercise also helps with initiating and maintaining sleep.
  • Naps.  Nap times should be geared to your child’s age and needs. Long naps should be avoided.

Many children have nighttime fears at bedtime and most have these at some age. They are a normal part of development. Children have different fears at different stages of development, for example some young children are afraid of monsters. Young children have difficulty distinguishing the difference between real and imagined.  If your child is having difficulty with nighttime fears, your health care provider can help. Give us a call or come in for a visit.

Sleep or night terrors are common in children. They usually happen 1 to 2 hours after falling asleep and can last for a few minutes to an hour. Children who are having a sleep terror may have their eyes open, usually appear agitated, frightented, some may scream or cry or talk nonsense. Although difficult to watch, the sleep terror for the child is less traumatic than a typical nightmare or bad dream. Most children do not remember a sleep terror the next day.  Sleep terrors are not a sign of a traumatic event or psychological problem. Most children outgrow sleep terrors by adolescence, sleep terrors and sleep walking does often run in families. Stress, a full bladder, fever, illness, irregular sleep schedule, not getting enough sleep, some medications, sleeping in a different or noisy environment can all contribute to sleep terrors.

Contact your health care provider if you child has difficulty falling asleep, snores or experiences unusual awakenings or has sleep problems that are causing disruption during the day.

Resources:  Mindell, JA & Owens JA (2003). A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems. Phildelphia: Lippencott Williams & Wilkins. 

Written by Genevieve Bastos, CPNP

Genevieve Bastos, CPNP

Genevieve Bastos, CPNP is a nurse practitioner with Promed Physicians – Pediatrics. Appointments can be made at (269) 552.2500.

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