We’re all interested in doing what we can to make our children happy and healthy. We watch what they eat, we make sure they do their homework, we shuttle them from one engaging activity to the next. Yet, despite all of these efforts, most of us are missing one proven ways to help one’s child. That is, most of us don’t ensure our children get enough sleep each night.
It’s no secret, sleep is important for children as it directly impacts their mental and physical development. A well-rested child is proven to be nicer, calmer, more focused and better able to pay attention at school. But that’s only the beginning. Recent studies have linked sleep problems in children to a host of issues including obesity, learning and memory problems and an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression later in life. Sleep deprivation results in “three strikes against learning,” says Dr. Carskadon at Brown University. “Students are not awake enough to attend to information they’re supposed to be learning, their knowledge acquisition is impaired and their ability to retrieve information is reduced. What is learned during the day is consolidated during sleep.”
That data resonates with most parents, but our busy schedules make a consistent night’s rest frighteningly elusive. So what’s a parent to do? In a word, consistency. Identify and adhere to a consistent bedtime as one powerful strategy that really works. New data on sleep patterns for children drives this point home. Getting your children to bed at a reliable and regular bedtime each night, allows your child to develop healthy circadian rhythms, that is sleep-wake cycles. Sleep deprivation – and its resulting negatives impacts – is far more likely in children whose bedtimes change day-to-day.
Communicate your intentions and stick to your guns. While your child may give you a hard time – mine certainly do – trust that you’re doing right by your child. Insist on a set bedtime and set a tone of calm transition. Make bedtime a time to relax, read, talk and listen to your kids–no phones, TV or distractions. Use that time to share each other’s company, make bedtime something they look forward to instead of dreading.
Strategies to encourage healthy sleep in kids
- Set a regular bedtime (and wake time), even on weekends.
- Make the bedroom a dark and quiet oasis for sleep. No homework or screen time in bed.
- Create a calming bedtime routine. For younger kids: a bath and story. For older kids: Reading or listening to mellow music.
- Ban technology (TV, Web surfing, texting) in the half hour before bed. These activities are stimulating. The light from a computer can interfere with the production of the sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin.
- Don’t send kids to bed as punishment or allow them to stay up late as a reward for good behavior. This delivers a negative message about sleep.
How much sleep do kids need?
|∙ Preschoolers 3-5 years||10 to 13 hours|
|∙ School-aged 6-13 years||9 to 11 hours|
|∙ Teenagers 14-17 years||8 to 10 hours|