SLEEP & KIDS: 6 Things Every Parent Must Know

With the often busy schedules most contemporary families have, it’s easy to overlook sleep. However, it should be a top priority as it plays a crucial role in boosting children’s health, mental alertness, performance at school, among others.

Find top things you should know about sleep to improve your children’s nighttime routines and help them stay well-rested as shared by Rosie Osmun.

1) How will inadequate sleep affect my child?

Sleep should be a top priority for parents because of the extensive and important ways a lack of rest could negatively affect kids (and adults, too).

The body and brain have specific functions like increasing healing, accelerating growth and consolidating new information, which play critical roles, especially in growing children. A lack of sleep affects mood, concentration and the ability to recall information and learn the next day.

Consistently poor sleep habits in childhood set the stage for adult sleep problems, and place kids at greater risk for childhood obesity, as well as adult obesity and diabetes later on.

A lack of sleep can make it harder to cope with stress and affect social relationships, while also affecting judgment and impulse control.

2) How much sleep does my child need?

While quality rest is important for people of all ages, kids and even teenagers actually require more sleep than adults. Individual children can vary somewhat in sleep needs, but the general guidelines outlined by the National Sleep Foundation are as follows:

Age ——————- Sleep Needs
Newborns ————– 15-18 hours
1-12 months ———– 14-15 hours
1-3 years ————– 12-14 hours
3-6 years ————– 11-13 hours
7-12 years ————- 10-11 hours
12-18 years ———— 8-10 hours

Family routines and bedtimes should take into consideration the sleep needs of each child to ensure everyone is getting the rest they need to thrive.

For younger children, sleep is often divided into a midday nap and night sleep, though most kids grow out of naps during elementary school due to different schedules, sleeping only at night. If they previously took long naps, then bedtime may need to start earlier when they are ceased.

For older kids and teens, setting bedtimes can seem a little more futile, but it is likely still important to ensuring they get enough rest.

3) How can I help if my child is struggling with sleep?

Every person has an internal sleep clock that regulates wakefulness and tiredness. If you are struggling to get your child to sleep, it could be helpful to identify their natural rhythms to determine when you should set bedtime.

Melatonin is typically released late in the evening, causing drowsiness. Trying to put your child to sleep too soon can leave them tossing, turning and complaining, while missing the drowsiness window can leave them overtired, grouchy and fighting bed.

One study of toddlers found most young kids were morning types, but that significant variation did exist. Toddlers whose melatonin surged earlier in the evening fell asleep earlier and sooner after laying down, while those whose melatonin surged later fell asleep later and were also more likely to fight bedtime.

Authors suggested looking for cues like yawning, rubbing eyes, and moodiness, then setting bedtimes within 30 minutes of these drowsiness cues. Dimming lights in the hour before bed can also be helpful.

4) Consistency is Important

Our internal clock functions best when sleep and wake times remain relatively consistent.

Erratic schedules can throw off the body’s natural rhythms, making sleep issues more likely at any age and possibly contributing to higher body weight as well. Ideally, wake times and bedtimes should not vary more than an hour from night to night, even on weekends.

Having a regular nighttime routine is an important part of good sleep hygiene for kids and adults alike. Following a similar 15 to 30 minute routine such as a bath and reading a story signals it’s time for sleep. Electronics should ideally not be part of the pre-bed program.

KidsHealth.org suggests letting children choose pajamas, stuffed animals, books, and/or songs during the routine to increase complicity, while older teens should be encouraged to balance sleep needs, activities and responsibilities.

5) Smartphones, Televisions & Computers Steal Sleep

Smartphones, tablets, electronic games, laptops, computers, and televisions are all potential sleep stealers for your child. According to researchers, more TV, especially before bedtime has been associated with resisting sleep, falling asleep later, increased sleep anxiety, and getting less sleep overall.

Experts generally recommend keeping electronics and phones out of the room at night, and not placing televisions inside kids’ bedrooms. Use of games, phones and TV should end 1 hour before bedtime, as the blue light they emit can affect melatonin release, delay sleep and throw off the internal clock.

Viewing scary or violent media content before bedtime can cause problems too, so, parents must prevent this.

Experts suggest keeping TV and video games age-appropriate for younger kids, and limiting TV and video games throughout the day and especially in the evening.

6) Some Foods Make Bad Bedtime Snacks

Kids typically have high metabolisms and it’s not unusual for them to get hungry after dinner. Evening snacks can be good for staving off hunger and helping kids sleep easier, but some foods should be avoided close to bed.

Caffeine, spicy and heavy, high-fat foods are sleep stealers, and some research indicates that diets high in nutrients like hexadecanoic acid (found in butter, red meat, and cheese) or high in moist foods may also affect rest.

On the other hand, foods with high-glycemic carbs and little filling protein can help promote sleep. Foods rich in nutrients like alpha carotene, selenium, lycopene, potassium, magnesium, tryptophan, and calcium are also associated with better sleep.

It’s also helpful to make sure they stay hydrated with plenty of water during the day, as gulping too much water before bed can mean waking up in the middle of the night.

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