Good sleep habits are important for us all. But they are especially so for children as they are often not resilient enough to adapt their behaviour. Often the root cause of minor behaviour and academic issues is the lack of good sleep habits. They are easy to let slip, with late bedtimes and busy schedules, but it is one of the most fundamental things we can do, no matter what the age. It is perhaps even more important for teenagers than any.
Instilling Good Sleep Habits and Hygiene
As important as sleep is, many children simply don’t get enough. A study co-authored by Dr. Hoi See Tsao, a pediatrician in Boston, Massachusetts, estimates this shortage of sleep to be as high as 52 percent among American children between the ages of 6 to 17. Many medical and non-medical factors contribute to this sleep shortage, including early school start times, stress, caffeine, allergies, acid reflux, bad dreams, bedroom screens, and a wide range of daytime habits.
Thankfully, improved sleeping hygiene through good sleep habits, is one of the best ways to get your child back on track. Down the line, this article outlines the importance of sleep for children and suggests ways to install good sleep habits and hygiene. Discipline is not only negative, it is also important in helping your child when they don’t know what to do. The first question is how much sleep does your child need?
How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?
How much sleep your child needs daily depends on their age. The guidance below is from the National Sleep Foundation
- 0-3 months Need between 14-17 hours of sleep. While most of this sleep should happen at night, babies hardly sleep through that period without waking up. So, to compensate, parents would have to develop a sleep regimen that, combined with the baby’s afternoon naps, meets their sleeping needs.
- 4-12 months For children within this age bracket, 12 hours of sleep is sufficient. But if the child can get 15 hours of sleep, including afternoon naps, that would be ideal. At this point, a sleeping pattern should be emerging. You may notice that the baby sleeps for longer stretches of 5-6 hours in the evenings.
- 1-3 years Children between this age hardly sleep for stretches in the morning and evening. This makes their night’s sleep crucial. However much your child manages to sleep in the mornings and evenings, combined with their night sleep, should make up the recommended 10-12 hours per day.
- 4-6 years Between these ages, naps gradually become shorter, meaning the bulk of their sleep happens at night. If the child is to get the recommended 10 to 12 hours of sleep, parents must make sure they go to bed early, between 7-9 pm every day.
- 7-12 years Between these ages, they have schoolwork, social and family activities. If not managed properly, this is the time when the child might get into the habit of sleeping late, making it almost impossible to get the 9-12 hours of recommended sleep. To get that amount of sleep, your child must go to bed at about 9 pm daily.
- 13-18 years Without a good sleep habits, it gets harder and harder for your child to get the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep daily. This varies massively at different times of their life. During a growing phase they will need more. This is because between 13 and 18, the child is either a teen or preteen with many activities to fill their time. But sufficient sleep is as vital to the child as when they were younger, so parents must install good sleeping hygiene even at this age. The ‘weekend lie in’ is not them being lazy, but often their bodies catching up with the hours of sleep that they have lost during the week. Although hard, a bedtime of around 10pm is necessary for this age group still.
Why Is Sleep Important for Children?
The importance of good sleep habits in child development and overall health cannot be overstated.
- Sleep facilitates your child’s growth The pituitary gland releases growth hormone during sleep. Lack of sufficient sleep for a prolonged period can affect the production of growth hormones. And without enough growth hormone, your child might look smaller than their age or have facial features that make them look younger than they are. Is you just think of those friends of your child who don’t have good sleep habits they are often smaller.
- Sleep prevents excess weight gain Children, or adults, with poor sleep habits can put on excess weight because they tend to eat differently than well-rested children. “Research has shown that children, like adults, crave higher-fat or higher-carb foods when they’re tired,” says Dr. Dorit Koren, a pediatric endocrinologist and sleep researcher at the University of Chicago. “Tired children also tend to be more sedentary, so they burn fewer calories.” And when the body is burning fewer calories, excess weight gain tends to follow. When tired we all make poor food choices looking for energy. It is important to keep your child’s relationship with food balanced. Being tired makes this hard.
- Sleep reduces the chances of diabetes in children According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, insufficient sleep is associated with insulin resistance, increased food intake, and impaired glucose tolerance. When children get sufficient and quality sleep, their bodies control the level of glucose in the blood better, reducing the chances of type II diabetes.
- Sleep fosters better behavior Children who consistently get adequate and quality sleep tend to behave better. A study by University of Michigan Medical School researchers found that children who are bullies or have conduct problems at school are more likely to be sleepy during the day. “What this study does is raise the possibility that poor sleep, from whatever cause, can indeed play into bullying or other aggressive behaviors — a major problem that many schools are trying to address,” says Louise O’Brien, assistant professor in U-M’s Sleep Disorders Center and the departments of Neurology and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
- Poor sleep habits are linked to emotions Children who are not well rested find it harder to cope with the everyday ups and downs of life. Tiredness could well be the reason that your child is angry. They are quick to see the negatives in situations and will often be over emotional when trying to discuss minor issues. If this is the case, they might just need a cuddle and the advice to go to bed.
- Reduced development of grey matter A recent piece of research showed that a lack of sleep is linked to a reduction in the physical development of the brain. What is concerning is how some of this can not be repaired.
How to Install Good Sleeping Habits and Hygiene in Your Child
Below are some strategies to help you establish better sleeping habits and hygiene in your child. Most are obvious but it is worth repeating them as often overlooked in the day today. If you are concerned about good sleep habits it may be worth revisiting them. If you think those below are mostly for younger children think again. It could well be that your teenager would benefit from a more relaxing bedtime routine that marks the end of the day. Reading in bed or talking through the day the lounge could have many positive outcomes beyond sleep.
- Phones Phones should not be in bedrooms when your child is trying to sleep. Neither should iPads or other devices. An alarm clock does not cost a lot of money. The issue is that there will always been some friends who stay up later, perhaps just for that one night, and will be messaging. The fear of missing out, will mean that your child will check their phone. Screen addiction is a real issues and this is modelling that they do not always need to be available.
- Establish a bedtime schedule A bedtime schedule goes a long way in helping your child sleep better. Your child should have a set time when they must go to bed irrespective of whatever they’re doing. Remind the child a few minutes before their bedtime. You need to be firm about the schedule so that they can develop a consistent sleeping pattern that contributes to the quality of their sleep.
- Get them to relax before bedtime Whatever activity your child does right before bed can affect the quality of their sleep. A teenager might want to play video games, while a younger child might want to watch TV. Both activities don’t inspire quality sleep. Instead, if the child is young, brush their teeth and bathe them. When they’re in bed, read them a story. But if the child is older, encourage them to unwind with a book or gentle music.
- Avoid unnecessary naps Naps are fine, as long as they’re not happening late in the evening. Late naps can severely affect your child’s sleeping pattern. The child might be unable to fall asleep at the designated time at night, which throws off your whole sleep schedule. If they had a late night, an hour or two after lunch is far less likely to affect their chances of sleeping at night.
- Limit drinks before bedtime Like adults, caffeinated drinks late into the day are not a good idea. However your child might have a drink or two on the settee before bed. Once awake in the night it could be hard for them to go back to sleep.
- Keep the bedroom cozy The ambiance of their bedroom can significantly improve your child’s sleep quality. Therefore, parents need to keep screens out of the bedroom. The blue light from gadget screens can delay sleep by suppressing your child’s melatonin levels. Also, you might want to keep the lights in the bedroom low and warm. Bright lights have the same effect as screen lights.
When It Is Necessary to Seek Additional Help
Jodi A. Mindell, a psychologist and associate director of the Sleep Center at CHOP, puts the percentage of children with sleep problems between 20 to 30 percent. While some of these problems can be tackled with good sleeping habits and hygiene, some might persist because they’re a symptom of something deeper. If generating good sleep habits is not having a positive affect, it may be that there are other issues going on in their life. This could be the opportunity to talk to them about what may be keeping them awake at night. Hopefully with more opportunity to sleep they may be able to deal with their emotions better, but it could be something more fundamental.
Final Thoughts on Good Sleep Habits
Good sleep habits are not only important for toddlers. But for all children and even for ourselves. We know that if we are tired we are more likely to be irritable and find it harder to cope. The energy your child is expanding in growing, behaving at school and emotionally is far higher. In picking your battles it may seem that bedtimes is not an important one. However poor sleep is often the cause of other problems, both emotional and academically.