What comes to mind when you hear the term “new parent?” Maybe it conjures the image of a frazzled and sleep-deprived adult. Parents both new and old are often seen as chronically tired, which has well-documented ramifications on their health and well-being. What about children, though? Although kids seemingly have boundless energy, their sleep needs and cycles are profound and ever-changing. Quality sleep at all stages of childhood is even more crucial for proper growth and well-being because children’s bodies and brains are still developing. This blog post will explore the importance of children’s sleep, the challenges of getting enough sleep, and strategies to help your child (and by extension, you!) sleep better.
The Importance of Sleep
The Sleep Help Institute has a useful reference guide that discusses how many hours of sleep children of different ages need per night. You may be surprised to learn that they recommend a minimum of ten hours of sleep for children as old as 12! Sleep deprivation in infants can manifest itself through physical signals like rubbed eyes and temper tantrums but may be more subtle in older children. Frustration, hyperactivity, moodiness, and cognitive impairment can all be telltale signs of sleep deprivation. Lack of quality sleep also can lead to poor performance in school, difficulty in behavioral and emotional regulation, and frayed nerves for both you and your child. Thus, helping your child reach their happiest and healthiest self involves helping them get the 10-16 hours they need. Getting children to understand the importance of sleep for their growth and development can also motivate them to self-improve. KidsHealth.org has age-appropriate resources and information about sleep for children and teens that you can share with them.
Sleep Challenges and Solutions
While it’s one thing for science to recommend ten or more hours of sleep per night for children, any parent knows that it’s another story to actually get to that number. Fights over bedtime, nightmares, restlessness, insomnia, sleepwalking, and a host of other issues make it hard for parents and children to reach that goal. One of the best ways to help your child sleep well is to establish a consistent nightly routine with a clear bedtime that involves soothing activities to wind down before getting into bed and turning out the light. These could be reading, taking a bath, putting on pajamas, saying goodnight to all family members, or other personalized activities based on your child’s interests. More important than the activities themselves, is performance consistency: over time, the brain can attenuate to these repeated cues and ease the transition from wakefulness to sleep.
One new issue that parents today have to face is screen use before bedtime. Studies have shown that the blue light emitted by electronic devices and the noise caused by notifications at night make it more difficult for technology users to fall and stay asleep. To minimize the effects of technology on your child’s sleep, make sure they put down screens at least an hour before bedtime and avoid using technology in their bedtime routine. Have your children leave screens outside the bedroom in order to remove any source of distraction and to ensure that any notifications don’t go off at night. If you use an e-reader to read to your child, try using a physical book or tell a story instead. If you must use technology at night, apps are available that filter blue light to a more bedtime-suited orange glow, which will not stimulate brain receptors to produce “wakeful” hormones. You can find more tips for reducing screen time here.
Monkey See, Monkey Do: How Fathers Can Lead the Way
One of the best ways to get your child to sleep soundly and with less resistance is to lead by example: being engaged in their bedtime routine can help your children stick to it and even look forward to it. NAEYC, WebMD, PsychCentral, and SleepHelp.org offer tips on leading by example, including:
- Turning your own screens off while you help your child get to bed
- Getting excited about the books you read or the stories your children tell about their day
- Sticking to a designated nap schedule (for infants) or bedtime routine (for older children)
- Dimming lights in the house before bedtime
- Being patient while children get used to brushing their teeth, using the bathroom at night, or feeling separation anxiety
- Talking about the importance of sleep
- Making your child’s bedtime routine a priority in your life
For comprehensive information and resources on the importance of sleep and strategies for helping children sleep, visit the Children’s Sleep Guide from the Sleep Help Institute.
Photo submitted by Darrell Freeman