Sleep is one of the few things that everyone from infants to grandma, needs plenty of. Children need more of it than anyone else. Newborns need 12-16 hours of sleep while toddlers and older kids need between 9 and 14 hours of sleep.
Why the heck is sleep so important for kids and what can parents do to establish healthy sleeping habits in their children?
How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
The exact number of hours of sleep will vary from child to child, but they should be within a certain range. Here’s how much sleep the Texas Children's Hospital recommends.
0-1 year old infants — 16 hours
1-2 year old toddlers — 11 to 14 hours
3-5 year old kids — 10 to 13 hours
6-13 year old kids — 9 to 11 hours
14-17 year old teens — 8 to 10 hours
Why Sleep is Important for Children
Childhood is a period of intense mental and physical development, and that’s why kids need more sleep than adults.
You and I have gotten as tall as we’ll ever be. Our brains have also fully matured by the time we are in our late 20s. So for adults, sleep is most important for maintaining our physical and brain health.
For kids, the stakes are a lot higher. Sleep deprivation could interrupt their development and result in lasting consequences for their health.
Something else to remember is that children have to learn a lot as they grow. When they are young, they learn about the environment, how to manipulate objects with their hands and language.
Older kids learn to paint, read and write, math and many other skills.
There are plenty of studies showing that sleep is crucial for learning and memory retention in adults. It’s even more crucial for kids. It’s no wonder that poor sleep in children is linked to poor academic performance.
Sleep is also important for a child’s health. Getting plenty of sleep gives the body time to repair and heal tissue, maintain a strong immune system and ensure proper physical development.
Lack of sleep in children has been linked to a higher risk of health issues like obesity when they are older.
Quality sleep also contributes towards a child’s behavioral development. In adults, poor sleep can cause irritability, mood swings and other emotional and mental problems. In kids, these problems are magnified and often manifest in the form of behavioral problems.
Alongside good nutrition, physical activity, and a safe environment, sleep is one of the most important in the health growth and development of children.
How to Establish Healthy Sleep Habits in Kids
As with many other things in life, good sleep is all about healthy habits. The earlier kids establish these habits, the easier it will be for them to get good sleep even when they become adults.
Here are five sleep habits that children need to have. Parents have to enforce these habits when their kids are infants and toddlers. But the aim is to teach your child to do them on their own as they grow older.
1. Establish A Sleep Routine
A sleep routine is not only good for kids, it also makes life a lot less stressful for mom and dad. Establishing a sleep routine can be tough with infants, but keep trying. Start from when they are about 3 months old.
As they get used to their new world and learn to differentiate night and day, that routine will come in handy. Keep up the routine as they grow into toddlerhood and get into pre-school. Older kids and teens also need a sleep routine.
The most important part of a routine is maintaining the same sleep and wake-up time. Do not vary them by more than 1-2 hours even on weekends.
A good routine should also include relaxing activities that calm down your child and prepare them for sleep.
2. No Screen Time Before Sleep
Children are growing up in a world that has more screens than ever before. If it’s not the TV, it’s a phone or tablet.
Studies have already proven that screens just before bedtime are bad for sleep quality. The light (not just blue light, but any kind of light) keeps us more alert and interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone that puts us to sleep.
As you set out a sleep routine, plan to turn off and put away all screens at least two hours before bedtime. Ideally, don't have any screens in the child’s bedroom.
3. Relaxing For Better Sleep
They may not be as stressed or anxious as adults, but kids can still be too alert and hyper to fall asleep easily. Having a relaxing bedtime routine will help them calm down and fall asleep.
A warm bath really helps. You can also try reading a story to them, putting on some soft music or doing breathing exercises.
Remember to leave plenty of time between turning off devices and going to bed. This gives them plenty of time to wind down.
4. Make their Bedroom Sleep-friendly
Make sure your child feels safe in their bedroom. If necessary, get them a night light or a toy to cuddle with. Staying with them as they fall asleep can also help in their early years.
Comfort is also crucial for kids to sleep well. The bedroom should be cool but not cold, dark (unless the child prefers a nightlight, but keep it dim) and quiet (unless they sleep better to relaxing sounds). Also check that their bed is comfortable.
5. Watch Out For Sleep Disorders
If your child is having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, they may have a sleep disorder. Consult a doctor for advice.
Common sleep disorders in kids include insomnia, sleep apnea, nightmares, and sleep walking. Some of the symptoms to look out for include behavioral changes (e.g. unusual irritability), excessive daytime sleepiness, loss of focus and concentration and snoring.
More Children Sleep Tips for Parents
Teach them the Importance of Sleep
As your kids grow older, reinforce the importance of sleep. These lessons will be handy when they become teens and have more control over their own time. They’ll also carry these lessons into adulthood.
The earlier you start to establish healthy sleep habits, the easier your kids will find it to stick to them. Starting early also ensures they enjoy healthy mental and physical development right from when they are young.
Have Good Sleep Habits Yourself
Kids learn a lot by watching the adults around them. So don't preach what you do not practice. If you ask them to turn off devices an hour before bedtime, you should also do the same yourself.
You’ll be surprised at how much good sleep benefits you.
Do Not Force It
The last thing you want to do is make your child anxious about bedtime. This will only make it harder for them to sleep. The goal is to develop habits that naturally help your child get good quality sleep.
If they have a few nights when they have trouble falling asleep, don’t reprimand them for it or make them feel bad about it. We all have those nights.
It’s also important to be flexible when they are 1-2 years old. Do not be super strict about bedtime. Focus more on having a routine that gets them to sleep around the same time everyday. And be patient as it may take a while for them to respond to the routine.
Improve Their Overall Lifestyle
Similar to adults, lifestyle plays a huge role in sleep quantity and quality. If your child is not active during the day or they don't eat a balanced diet, their sleep quality will decline.
Make sure they get plenty of playtime during the day and eat nutritious meals.
Also keep an eye on their mental health. A little stress or anxiety can wreak havoc on a child’s ability to sleep well. Talk to them often and in serious cases such as bullying or the death of a family member, consider therapy.