A good night’s rest is important for every member of the family — but getting enough isn’t always easy. Dr. Max J. Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA, physician in-chief at Renown Children’s Hospital opens our eyes about sleep and tells us how to get what we need.
“We know that sleep plays a fundamental role in child development,” says Dr. Coppes. “And lack of it — meaning less than what’s recommended in a 24-hour period — results in both physical and mental problems.”
The doctor goes on to state that lack of sleep in children can result in irritability, stress, forgetfulness, low motivation, anxiety, and depression. He then adds, “There’s also evidence linking it with obesity and type 2 diabetes. And it’s proven that sleep deprivation results in hormonal changes that can affect appetite and hunger.”
In the United Kingdom, some healthcare providers have sounded the alarm in regard to children and sleep, speaking of a hidden health crisis. The National Health Service (NHS) announced that almost 10,000 children under 16 years of age were admitted with sleeping disorders, including sleep apnea, in 2017.
“This all suggests that we can contribute to the overall health and well-being of children by helping them to get enough sleep,” says Dr. Coppes. “And our job starts immediately after birth.”
How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
Though each child is different and may require a little more or a little less rest, Dr. Coppes recommends the following general, daily sleep guidelines by age:
- Newborn to 2 months: 16-18 hours
- 2 to 6 months: 14-16 hours
- 6 to 12 months: 14 hours
- 1 to 12 years: 10-12 hours (including naps)
- 13 years and over: 8-10 hours
Getting babies to sleep through the night is often a frustrating (and tiring) challenge for new parents — and patience is needed. Babies don’t usually achieve 6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep until they reach 5 to 6 months of age. And it’s not uncommon for that milestone to happen months later, especially in breastfed children.
“But don’t worry,” says Dr. Coppes. “How long it takes for a baby to sleep through the night has no effect on their development. The effect it has on parents, well, that’s another matter.”
Toddlers and pre-middle school age children can also be challenging sleepers. Some simply may not want to go to bed. Others may awaken in the night and have difficulty returning to sleep. Still others may be experiencing nightmares.
How can you make sleep a dreamier experience for them? Try implementing these snooze-friendly routines from Dr. Coppes:
- Stick to the same bedtime and bedtime routine
- Be sure the bedroom is calm, quiet and dark — put dimmers at lowest settings
- Use the bedroom for sleep, not screen time: don’t allow TV, tablets or smartphones
- Tuck your child into bed in a sleepy but awake state, this will help them return to slumber more easily if they wake up in the night
- After a nightmare, calm your child, then return them to bed surrounded by items of comfort
Think your high school age children are getting enough shut-eye? You may want to think again. Data indicates that about three-quarters of them… are not.
Why is that? Well, teenagers have a lot going on physically and socially that may interfere with the quality and duration of their sleep.
“The reasons behind the low-sleep statistics in teens are complex and include genuine biological changes related to age affecting their rest, as well as socioeconomic changes providing major distractions challenging healthy sleep hygiene,” explains Dr. Coppes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following for teens:
- sleeping in a dark and quiet room
- limiting the use of electronics before bed
- maintaining a consistent bedtime schedule on both weekdays and weekends
All of the above is, admittedly, a tall order for any teenager.
What About Mom and Dad?
So when children are getting the recommended amount of quality zzz’s, parents can easily grab a good 7 to 9 hours of rest a night, right? Well, much of what applies to children also applies to mom and dad. Parents, too, need routine. Going to bed around the same time, sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet environment, and avoiding TV, smartphones or any other mobile devices just before turning off the lights encourages better slumber.
“Keep in mind, like your child, parents also need to wind down and shift into bedtime mode,” says Dr. Coppes. “Try to spend a half-hour or so before going to sleep doing something that calms you, like reading a book or listening to soothing music. Then turn off the lights and sleep tight.”