Why Sleep is Important for Kids and How to Get More Of It
Getting older is exhausting. And not just for parents! Children are a mass of ever evolving and growing bones, muscles, and hormones. Changes occur almost every day. In order to stay healthy both mentally and physically, amidst all this growth, kids need sleep.
And plenty of it.
Parents know that during the first few years of development sleep is crucial. For every member of the family.
Sleep’s importance doesn’t change as the years go by. In fact, as toddlers grow into children, then tweens and teens, the importance of a good night’s sleep only solidifies.
At the same time, it often seems like kids are sorely lacking in sleep at every age.
That’s why it’s important for parents to set a strong foundation. They must reinforce healthy sleeping habits to help growing children stay healthy.
How many hours of sleep is appropriate?
For guidelines and recommendations in almost all developmental areas, parents must take into account that each child is different. Even within the same family, different children will need more or less than the recommended amount of sleep as they grow.
Therefore, here are general recommendations:
- Preschoolers between 3-5 years of age need 11-14 hours of sleep.
- School aged children from 6-12 need 9-12 hours.
- Typically, older children and young adults need between 6-10 hours of sleep.
(This includes naps.)
Not only does age matter when determining how much sleep is required, so do events. Emotionally and physically exhausting days will naturally bring on the need for more rest at night.
Keep an eye on your children’s behavior. If you notice they are sleeping less at night and this coincides with troubling behavior changes, or other negative side effects, add to the hours of sleep each night. Be sure to see a doctor if trouble persists.
What time should kids go to sleep?
Kids do better academically and emotionally when there is a regular nighttime routine each evening. This includes keeping to the same sleeping and waking hours.
Bedtime doesn’t just start when your kids get into bed. Depending on their needs, the bedtime routine can start an hour or two before lights out.
So, keeping this in mind, also consider when your child wakes up each morning. That too should be consistent. And helpful in determining what time at night they should be in bed to feel their absolute best when the alarm clock goes off.
PRO TIP: Kids begin to grow out of naps by the age of 5. For some parents, that is a sad, sad day. However, some children still benefit from daytime rest – or earlier bedtimes – well into middle school.
How can you tell if your kids aren’t getting enough sleep?
- Quick to anger or tears
- Tired throughout the day
- Unusually aggressive
- Difficult to rouse in the morning
- Failing grades or lack of focus
How to get ready for bed each night
Before bedtime, create a quiet and relaxing environment in your home. Consider these ideas:
- A soak in the tub is a calming way to get clean. Lavender can help with relaxing.
- Close the blinds or curtains around the house. Dim the lights. This signals to everybody that it’s time to rest.
- Shut down all laptops, phones, televisions and computers. Studies show the lights from electronic devices interrupt the body’s rhythm and ability to properly rest.
- Enjoy a small cup of warm milk or decaffeinated tea.
- If older children or adults are watching television nearby, have them lower the volume. Everyone should quiet down in the evening to support a sleep-friendly atmosphere.
- Older children can read a book the old-fashioned way, by holding one in their hands. Read in that same manner to your younger children.
- Sing lullabies.
After just a few nights, this helps children recognize bedtime patterns and find comfort in them.
Bed clothes help kids understand the importance of sleep. Rather than wearing the same shirts and shorts they have on during the day, comfortable nightgowns or pajamas signal the difference.
PRO TIP: Let children choose their own pajamas and books to read. Making their own decisions helps kids feel more in control and they tend to behave better as a result. Children with strong decision-making skills also accept more thoughtful discipline from parents.
Be consistent. Of course, routines change a bit as children grow. For example, they might require fewer hours to sleep as they get older. But the overall routine should stay the same.
Flossing, rinsing, and brushing teeth is a healthy part of any evening regimen.
Keep to this schedule during weekends and vacations, too. Periodically deviating from the norm is understandable, but overall children do better in school when they don’t have to spend Monday through Tuesday getting over each weekend. They also adjust quicker when school starts back up if they aren’t taking a week or two to get used to the new schedule.
Remind kids to use the potty “one last time” before getting into bed. This reduces bedwetting accidents in the middle of the night, which also disrupt sleeping patterns.
Soft lighting helps some children feel comforted. For instance, choose gentle nightlights for a dark hallway or bathroom.
White noise machines block noises from outside, especially if your neighbors own barking dogs or you live in a noisy area. Many phones have free white noise apps that can help everyone (even adults!) sleep better at night.
Blackout shades are handy if bright lights shine outside your home. They also darken rooms during summer evenings when the sun sets later than most children’s bedtimes.
Things to avoid right before bed
- Physical activities
- Drinking liquids
- Snacks, especially with sugar or caffeine
- Electronic video games, texting, or television
- Serious discussions
- Promoting bad habits like allowing the television to stay on all night. Or letting your child fall asleep on the couch instead of a quiet bedroom.
- Inconsistency. Changing rules and boundaries from day to day hurts everyone.
If you allow children to avoid bedtime, they will not develop healthy habits and may bring sleeping problems into adulthood. Remember that this is the time for parents to help children learn skills for success at school and beyond. A good night’s sleep allows children to thrive emotionally and academically.