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What you should know about kids and sleep

A comforting nightime routine for kidsTo be young means staying up all night and still having the energy to conquer the world the next day! That’s not exactly true. In general, kids benefit from sleep the same way adults do. So just because they may seem unaffected doesn’t mean there isn’t harm to skipping a few hours of rest. In fact, anyone under 17 probably needs more sleep, not less.

How much sleep do kids need?

Basically, if they’re a minor, they need more sleep than you. Here is the basic guide:

  • Newborns of 0-3 months should be getting 14-17 hours each day (if only it was all at once!).
  • Infants of 4-11 months should get 12-15 hours each day.
  • Toddlers (1-2 years) should have 11-14 hours.
  • Preschoolers, ages 3-5, need 10-13 hours of sleep.
  • Kids age 6-13 need 9-11 hours.
  • Teenagers (they start this at 14 and go through 17) should have 8-10 hours of sleep.
  • Young adults and adults from age 18 through 64 need 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Older adults (65+) need a little less at 7-8 hours of sleep.

    The range depends on your child. Everyone has a different sweet spot in their age range. To determine if your child is getting enough sleep, make sure to note how long they’re sleeping and how they feel the next day. If you have trouble getting them out of bed, if they are cranky and out of sorts, and if they sleep like a hibernating bear whenever they can – they’re probably not getting enough sleep most nights.  

    Why is sleep important for kids?

    Just like adults, kids need a good amount of sleep to function well. Being well rested has been shown to improve mental focus, mood and interpersonal interactions, diet, and overall health. All good things at any age.

    For sleepy kids, their school performance can suffer as they can have trouble with concentration, memory, and problem solving. This makes it difficult to retain information, complete homework assignments, and do well on tests. Being in a bad mood is also not good for the social aspects of school, either.

    More serious issues can come up as well. Lack of sleep has been tied to cognitive and behavioral problems. Hyperactivity, lack of emotional control, and other issues can arise as a long-term result of sleep deprivation.

    In addition to all of that is something you may not know: not getting enough rest can alter a kid’s hormones. The growth hormone is primarily secreted overnight, and children who aren’t resting enough won’t get the right amount.

    Teens are especially likely to see the effects of sleep deprivation. At puberty, sleep patterns change as they want to go to bed later, which puts them at odds with the normal school schedule. Hormones change, too. This already causes a rollercoaster of emotions, but add sleep deprivation and it can lead to stress and depression. Now that they’re learning to drive, sleeplessness becomes a safety risk.  If nothing else, lack of sleep can contribute to skin problems so they could get more pimples!

    Teens need to keep their bedrooms relaxing while still being able to express themselves.

    Look out for sleep disorders

    Teens and young children can suffer from the same issues keeping them up at night as adults. 

    • Insomnia – The good news is that this is usually temporary, brought on by stress or illness. Being firm about a bedtime schedule and avoiding stimulants (food, caffeine, electronics) before bed can help get them back on track.
    • Delayed sleep phase syndrome –  Basically this means not being tired until later than usual. Teenagers are most likely to suffer from this one, which may at first seem to just be insomnia or a “different” sleep schedule. It becomes a problem when it’s consistent and interferes with getting enough sleep. Unfortunately they still have to get up at the same time, no matter how late they go to bed. The same good sleep practices apply here as to insomnia. A light box or melatonin can help.
    • Sleep apnea – This is often overlooked in kids, but if you observe them snoring or constantly waking up, it could be the reason they’re not able to sleep. A pediatrician can review and get a sleep study done, and this can be treated the same way as it is with adults with a CPAP machine.
    • Sleep walking – This is more common in children than adults and is more likely to occur with sleep deprivation. Getting enough sleep may solve this issue, but if you have a sleep walker make sure to create a safe environment and see a doctor if it starts to happen frequently.
    • Night terrors – As much as 40% of children have night terrors, which are like nightmares but worse. The subject feels extreme fear and may talk, scream, or move around. Stress is a large factor here, but also anxiety and, again, lack of sleep. If this happens to your child, work to find the source of the stress and check with your doctor if you’re concerned.

    How to get kids to sleep more

    Just like adults, the key to better sleep is good bedtime habits. It’s easier said than done, but start when they’re infants with a consistent bed time schedule. This will change as they get older, but regulating sleep from the start will help them stay regulated forever.

    Once they’re old enough to understand, create a routine around going to bed that emphasizes winding down and relaxation. That might be a bath, a bed time story, or whatever works for your family. The goal is that starting those steps is immediately associated with going to sleep. It’s best if they sleep on their own, so put them to bed in their room. The routine may also change as they get older, but even adults should have one.

    Make their room a relaxing sleep environment. Try to stay away from very bright colors, get the temperature slightly cooler than 70, and make sure you can block out any light coming in. The bed should be sturdy, comfortable, and the right size (if you need to size up, we have frames you can use at multiple sizes). 

    Electronics should get put out of sight about an hour before bedtime. This is going to get harder the more they use them, but try to explain why it’s important. For younger kids, encourage sleeping with a blanket or stuffed animal instead of with you. Again, the association is with comfort, security, and sleep.

    Once caffeine enters the picture, make sure to eliminate it starting three hours before bedtime.

    Nap smart. While taking a short snooze can be harmful to a regular sleep schedule if it’s too close to bedtime, naps can be a good thing. For kids 2 and under, it can actually help them sleep better. Older kids and teens (and adults) might benefit from a 20 minute power nap before dinner. Any longer than that and you’ll hit the deep stage of sleep where you feel groggy after you wake up. Just like the bedtime routine, a pre-nap routine can help get settled in and make the most of the short time.

    Kids may all have different needs, so identify what type of sleeper yours are and address their specific style. With any habit, the important thing is to stick with it and keep trying.