Sleep deprivation is very common, and our children are no exception. It is not surprising that most of us need more sleep than we are currently getting, and those needs change as we grow older. Sleep deprivation in children can cause behavior problems at home and school and can cause physical health problems. Today we will talk about how much sleep children need and talk about important sleep hygiene techniques.
It is important to establish a good nighttime routine when children are young. Routine is important to children to help them feel safe and secure, and a bedtime routine is no exception. Keeping your children active, in a routine and minimizing screen time can help bedtime go more smoothly. Turning all screens off at least 60 minutes before bedtime can also help the transition to sleep as can controlling the bedroom environment, keeping it dark and cool and free of distractions. Bringing one special item to bed can comfort younger children, but many toys can be distracting and keep them up. Having a routine, such as brushing teeth, and reading a story before bed can help children know it is time to go to sleep and wind down. It is important that your routine can be done anywhere, so if you are on vacation or traveling the bedtime routine is the same.
As we know, most teenagers are not getting nearly enough sleep given their many demands (school, sports, jobs, and friends). This sleep deprivation can cause irritability, depression, anxiety, mood swings, difficulty concentrating and many more health problems. Just like younger kids, teenagers (and adults) do well with routine, and going to bed about the same time everyday and with a similar routine can help them sleep better. It is important that they avoid caffeine, avoid screens (including cell phones) for 60 minutes before bed, and napping during the day. Most teenagers need more sleep and may need help juggling their many demands to be sure they are getting enough sleep.
Parents and caregivers are role models for children through all ages, therefore it is important for them to model good sleep behaviors. Avoid pulling all-nighters and be sure to make sleep a priority for the whole family. Parents also play an important role in noticing sleep problems. If you have any concerns bring them up with your child’s pediatrician, especially if your child has trouble falling asleep, snores loudly, or appears to have periods where they stop breathing while sleeping. Also, stay in communication with your child’s teacher and make sure they are not falling asleep during the day, or ‘zoning out’ often. There are many things your pediatrician can do to help your child’s sleep improve. For more information, Healthychildren.org is a great resource about sleep for children of all ages.