Is your child getting enough sleep?
Few things are more important for children’s health than getting the hours of rest they need.
Read on to find out how to get your child’s sleep to where it needs to be!
How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
Let’s start with the basics – just how much sleep do children actually need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns aged 0 to 3 months should be getting somewhere between 14 and 17 hours of sleep every day.
However, it typically takes around four months for sleep patterns to stabilize into sleeping at night and being awake during the day, so many parents will have to adjust their sleep patterns to suite their child’s needs.
After 3 months, most children start to sleep somewhat more regularly, needing only two to four naps per day.
They’ll also only need around 12 to 15 hours of sleep each night.
After 1 year, that recommended number drops to 11 to 14 hours, and sometime between their first and second birthday, kids drop from two naps a day to just one.
That single nap, however, is often fairly long.
It can take up to 3 hours, and usually takes place sometime in the afternoon.
Finally, after age 2, most kids no longer need naps, although they can still be helpful if they’re feeling tired in the middle of the day.
Preschoolers aged 3 to 5 need around 10 to 13 hours of sleep each night, and by age 5, most children no longer need substantial midday naps.
Children aged 6 to 13, meanwhile, need about 9 to 11 hours each night, and finally, between ages 14 and 17, the recommended sleep amount drops to near adult levels – 8 to 10 hours each night.
However, as your child enters puberty, their sleep cycle will likely move backwards, making it harder for them to get to sleep as early as they used to.
Balancing this with early school start times is often challenging.
How to Get Naptime Right
Although midday naps are important for young children’s health, they’re also an easy way to throw off normal sleep/wake schedules.
If your child is having trouble getting to sleep at a decent time each night, consider adjusting the amount of time they sleep during the day.
After age 5, most children shouldn’t be getting naps much longer than 30 minutes in length.
Past half an hour, you start getting into the deeper sleep stages, which are harder to wake up from.
When you do wake someone up from deep sleep, they’ll often be groggy and irritable for quite a while afterwards – essentially the reverse of what the nap was supposed to do to begin with!
Additionally, the ideal window for naptime is between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, which is when most of us start to feel an overall decline in energy.
Above all, do not let your child nap past 5 o’clock in the evening, since that’s a surefire way to keep them up all night.
All that said, however, naps also play an important role in the development of young children’s brains.
In addition to keeping kids energized and cheerful, they also play a vital role in learning and memory formation.
One recent study found a 10% increase in preschoolers’ performance at a memory-based game after they’d taken a midday nap.
Additionally, there’s some evidence to suggest that naps can improve learning in adults, too!
Set a Regular Bedtime
When establishing children’s sleep schedules – both during the day and at night – one of the most important things to do is establish regularity.
Kids are often unpredictable in a lot of different ways, but the more structure you can give to their bedtime and wakeup time, the better a time you’ll have in getting them to sleep.
Children’s sleep/wake patterns are part of a daily hormonal cycle called the circadian rhythm.
When it starts getting near bedtime, our brains start to power down for the day – decreasing the level of stress hormones like cortisol, while secreting sleep-related hormones such as melatonin.
The thing is, though, our brains don’t just automatically know when to start releasing these chemicals.
Although there is some environmental influence – melatonin production, for instance, is related to the levels of ambient light in our environment – children’s brains also need to be taught bedtime.
Set a time for your child to go to bed, and a time for them to wake up – and stick to these, no matter what!
Even on vacation and during the weekends, consistency is key in improving your children’s sleep quality.
Have a Solid Bedtime Routine
Along a similar vein, you also want to establish a regular bedtime routine.
Again, children’s minds are built to pick up patterns – so if you’re doing the exact same things at the exact same time before tucking them into bed at night, they’ll have a much easier time getting to sleep.
Thankfully, there are a lot of things that are naturally built into any bedtime routine.
Getting their teeth brushed, getting them into PJs, giving them a goodnight kiss – these are all good ways to signal that it’s time to start thinking about sleep.
Other typical nighttime activities like having them take a bath, singing them lullabies, or reading them bedtime stories can help solidify these connections even more.
Avoid Electronics Before Bed
Now, when it comes to getting their child settled for the night, many modern parents might turn to electronics as an easy, hands-free way to take care of bedtime.
Unfortunately, however, most modern electronics actually have the exact opposite effect!
First of all, they’re typically far too stimulating.
Nighttime is when our brains are supposed to be calming down from a busy day – but electronics typically give a near-constant barrage of stimulating sounds and images.
This confuses children’s brains, making them think it’s time to be awake.
Additionally, the blue LED lights of most modern screens are directly inhibit the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
As we mentioned earlier, melatonin is released in response to decreased light levels in your environment.
Exposure to any kind of bright light around bedtime disrupts the release of melatonin.
More than that, though, blue lights are particularly harmful – and just about all modern electronics emit lights towards the blue end of the spectrum.
Because of this, most experts recommend avoiding electronics for at least 2 hours before bed.
Dim the Lights Before Bed
In general, the fewer lights your child is exposed to before bed, the better.
If you have any dimmer switches around the house, think about turning those down somewhat as the night drags on.
Additionally, if your child likes to sleep with a nightlight, be sure to get one on the red spectrum, rather than the blue.
Again, this supports the production of melatonin.
Keep Your Kids Active
Finally, another easy way to improve your child’s sleep is to make sure they’re getting enough exercise.
Keeping active during the day is a great way to use up excess energy, and there’s some evidence to suggest that this can substantially improve your child’s chances at a good night’s sleep.
This is particularly true if your kid is getting outside while they’re exercising, since exposure to bright lights during the day is similar to dimming the lights at night.
Our brains pick up on contrasts, so the more sunshine you’re seeing in the afternoon, the better you’ll sleep come evening.
Getting outside to run around and play also makes kids happier and healthier, further contributing to top-notch sleep!
Speak With a Specialist
If your child is consistently having difficulty getting to sleep at night despite your best efforts, it might be time to speak with a medical professional.
Both pediatricians and specialized sleep doctors should have experience with childhood insomnia, and will be able to give you advice on where to go next.
Children having trouble sleeping is more common than you might think.
Even though they normally sleep for more hours than do adults, keep in mind that they need all that sleep to support their growing minds and bodies.
Sleep deprivation in children can have long-term effects on their health, many of which researchers are only beginning to uncover.
At the very least, it has some major impacts on their current mental health.
Kids that don’t get enough sleep tend to be lower-achieving, more emotionally unstable, and more hyperactive than those who are getting their recommended hours of sleep each night.
Quality sleep is crucial for keeping your child healthy and safe, and it’s your responsibility as a parent to make sure it’s happening.
Making sure your child is getting enough sleep is one of the biggest favors you can possibly do them.
Well-rested kids are happier, healthier, and better-behaved – but keeping a solid sleep schedule in today’s day in age isn’t always easy.
Always keep in mind just how much sleep children need, and never just assume they’re getting enough.
Childhood sleep deprivation is surprisingly common these days, and it’s your job as a part to make sure your little one is waking up cheerful and refreshed.
Good luck out there, dads and moms.
You’ve got this!