Sleep & Rest for Children & Teens

Sleep and Rest

Dr. Lisa Hardy - child psychiatrist and Castro Valley parent

Children are very busy people. Their schedules keep them and their parents on the move. Homework, sports, music lessons, and other activities take up evenings and weekends. Unfortunately, with all these activities, sleep is often the loser.

Yet children need sleep. Sleep is a critical factor in child wellness. In fact, it’s just as important as nutrition and physical activity. A lack of sleep, especially a chronic lack, can be detrimental to a child’s physical and emotional health and education.

How do you know if a child needs sleep?

Surprisingly, children who are not getting enough sleep may not seem sleepy. But they might show it in other ways. They may be short-tempered and whiny. At school, they may have trouble with concentrating and remembering. They may be irritable, restless, impatient, or defensive (just like sleep-deprived adults). They may even show signs similar to those of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), such as inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Sleep is very important for children who really do have ADHD. Some researchers believe there is a link between ADHD and sleep problems.

Overweight children are far more likely to have sleep problems. Snoring in children often indicates that the child is having poor quality sleep. In one study, snoring was helped by an after-school exercise program. The children’s sleep problems were helped significantly by the exercise.

Snoring and poor quality sleep have also been linked to a condition called sleep apnea which not only affect children who are overweight but also those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids (like tonsils but located behind the nose). As with any concerns or questions about your child’s health, a visit to the pediatrician and a thorough physical exam are the best place to start.

So how much sleep do children need?

Every child is different, but here are some guidelines from the Mayo Clinic.

· Children 1 to 3 years old: 10 to 13 hours per night plus a nap in the day.

· Preschoolers: 10 to 12 hours per night.

· Children 6 to 9: about 10 hours per night.

· Preteens and teens: 9 hours

As always, teenagers are a special challenge. Their bodies tell them to stay up late and to wake up later in the morning. Losing sleep adds up over time. Losing an hour each night means you have lost a whole night by the end of the week! Sometimes they try to catch up on the weekends, but it isn’t really the same. They really need for their schedule to be as regular as it can be.

Setting a bedtime routine is good for everyone.

A good routine before bedtime will help everyone to get better sleep. A regular routine is the body’s way of “shutting down” much the same way a computer does. Overtime with consistency, your body willbegin to relax and calm down in preparation for sleep. A routine is especially helpful for younger children to get them settled down and to feel safe and secure when nighttime fears erupt.

Every family needs its own routine to fit its own situation. Plan on about 30 minutes for brushing teeth, getting a drink of water, reading a bedtime story, or talking about the day. A little trial and error will help you find your best routine.

The appropriate setting for sleep is also important. Best sleep can be obtained in a room that is on the cool side, as dark as is comfortable and quiet. Additionally, it is helpful not to have strenuous activities 2-3 hours before sleeping – either physical or mental (think computer games, and instant messaging), or a heavy meal. All of these activities force your body to continue working – either cooling the body down , getting blood/oxygen to muscles and the stomach for digestion or to the brain to keep working.

Improved child wellness

In the end, everyone will win. Good sleeping habits will help your child to have more energy, pay better attention at school, and be better able to deal with the challenges of growing up. It also provides needed time for everyone in the family to refuel and start fresh the next day. As stated before, if your child has any difficulty sleeping (including persistent nightmares) or physical discomfort (snoring or restless legs/excess moving during sleep) the best place to go for information and assessment is your pediatrician or family medical doctor.

For additional information:

The Mayo Clinic

Sleep and your child's health: Why bedtime matters

National Institutes of Health

Star Sleeper for Parents

Stanford University:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's+Sleep+Problems&section=Facts+for+Families

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