Sleep Tips for Young Children
Sleep is as important as physical exercise and eating healthy. To keep your mind and body alert and ready to perform another day, you must first recover with a good night’s sleep. This is especially true for children and teenagers getting ready to head back for school. Now that summer is coming to an end, establishing a bedtime routine is key in academic success.
Children who get less than eight hours of sleep at night are likely to get lower grades than their well-rested classmates. When children are tired, their cognitive abilities – memory, creativity, decision-making – are affected. When pressured to focus on school subjects, they may appear moody, cranky or just frustrated due to lack of concentration.
Children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to fall asleep during class or while doing homework, have shorter attention spans and participate less in class discussions – all of which may lead to a lower Grade Point Average (GPA).
Signs that your child may not be getting enough sleep include:
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- High energy at night (laughing uncontrollably or unable to lay or sit still)
- Looking depleted or exhausted, tripping over items or showing lack of coordination
- Changing moods quickly from happy to frustrated or cranky
Boys Town Pediatrics recommends elementary school children get 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Preteen through high school youth should try to get nine to 11 hours of sleep. This guide will vary for each individual child, but the most important thing parents can do is be consistent. Boys Town Pediatrics offers tips to help children get more sleep.
Start setting boundaries. Set a bedtime and wake-up time for young children about a month before the first day of school. Gradually move this time back in 15-minute increments until you reach the appropriate times for your child’s school schedule. Parents may establish a quiet time for older children to help them unwind from the day.
Keep a routine. Stay consistent with bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends. This will help children adjust to the new schedule easier. Plan the rest of the summer activities in the mornings and early afternoons, helping your child become accustom to doing activities (at the same time as school) rather than later in the day and night.
Create a comfortable sleep atmosphere. Use a bedtime blanket, nightlight and other items of comfort for younger children. Adolescents may choose to relax with a good book or listen to music as they fall asleep.
Limit caffeine and other sugary sweets before bedtime. Parents may choose to monitor the amount of caffeine and sugar in their child’s diet all day. These items give an initial burst of energy and quickly fade. More nutritional options, like fruits and vegetables, will balance energy throughout the day.
Parents can also talk to their children about the importance of sleep and reinforce the benefits such as better comprehension, a stronger immune system and more energy to play sports and hang out with friends after their school week.
If your child continues to have difficulty getting enough sleep or following a sleep schedule, you may want to consult with your pediatrician to rule out any sleep disorders. Boys Town Pediatrics wants to make sure your child is ready to reach their highest potential for school with a regular bedtime routine.
Bedtime Routines for Young Children
Connie J. Schnoes, Ph.D..
Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health
I would say the main reason children resist bedtime is because the fun of the day is over and they don't get to play anymore. The toys are up, they have to go in their room, be by themselves, be in the quiet, and there is no stimulation.
What can parents do to make bedtime less stressful?
They can build a routine so the kid gets used to this is what we do, this is how it works, and you end up in bed so that it's hopefully a pleasant, fun interaction where they're getting their pajamas on, reading a story, saying some prayers together, whatever works for that family. The other thing that is really important to do is to teach them to fall asleep by themselves. We don't think about that as parents in a conscious way, but we really do learn how to fall asleep and children need to learn how to do that by themselves.
How much sleep should children get every night?
For toddlers and younger children, you're thinking about it in a 24 hour period, not just at night. For younger children who are still napping, 10 hours over night and probably a couple hour nap during the day. By the time a child is 5 or 6 years old, they still need 11 hours a night on average. As they get older and approach middle-elementary, like 10 years of age, we are looking at 10 hours of sleep. So it's still a lot of sleep for children and that would be all at night because they are not napping anymore.
How does lack of sleep impact children?
The most obvious way that parents would see is that their behavior is more disruptive and over-active. Adults get tired and slow down. Little kids wind up and get more active. Things that are less obvious is the impact on their health and their learning. Our brains are so busy while we are sleeping and if we don't get enough sleep then it's really not doing the job it needs to do.
When should parent seek help for bedtime issues?
If they have tried everything they know and have read and been encouraged to do and are still spending an excessive time, more than a half hour, then getting help can bring a lot of relief both to the parent and the child.