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Helping Children of Different Ages Sleep Better

Sleep is vital to all creatures. It is a primary activity of the brain during early stages of development. Most children have spent more time asleep than awake by the age of two. One of the
most important things you can do for your child is to make sure that they get enough sleep. Sleep is so important for children because it directly impacts mental and physical development. Sleep promotes a time for the body to recover and rebuild, and for the brain to process new information. For children, this is extremely important, because the learning of new skills is impacted by not getting enough sleep. Sleep is crucial to health for everyone, but most important
for children, because of their rapid growth and development in such a small period of time. It is estimated that children should sleep for approximately 50% of the day. Sleep studies show that if a child is sleep deprived, they may not develop and learn to their full potential. Sleep protects the immune system, so children getting adequate sleep don’t get sick as often as children who lack sleep.

So, how much sleep does your child need? It depends on their age and stage of development. The National Sleep foundation recommends the following guidelines:

Newborns 0-3 months: 10.5 to 18 hours a day. They do not have a regular schedule, and may sleep from a few minutes to several hours at a time.

Infants 4 to 11 months: 9 to 12 hours a day. They also should take naps during the day, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Toddlers 1 to 2 years of age: 11 to 14 hours a day. Most of these hours should occur at night, but they should take a nap during the day.

Children aged 3 to 5: 11 to 13 hours a day. Naps generally get shorter and less often. Most children stop napping past age 5.

Children aged 6 to 13: 9 to 11 hours a day. Homework and electronic devices often interfere with sleep, so it becomes important to set a sleep schedule and enforce a bedtime routine.

Teenagers aged 14 and up: 8 to 10 hours of sleep. The circadian rhythms of students shift as they hit puberty, so they find it hard to fall asleep as early as they used to be accustomed to.

So, how do we encourage sleep?

Newborns: Newborns can be encouraged to sleep less during the day by exposing them to light and noise. Observe your infant’s sleep patterns and observe for signs of sleepiness. Place your infant in the crib when drowsy, but not yet asleep. Place the infant to sleep on his/her back, free of blankets, toys, or other soft items.

Infants 4 to 11 months: Nighttime feedings are usually not necessary. Many infants are sleeping through the night. Infants typically sleep nine to twelve hours during the night and take naps ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Infants that are put to bed drowsy, rather than being put to bed asleep tend to be “self-soothers” which helps them to fall asleep independently and to help in putting themselves back to sleep. Infants that become accustomed to parents responding to needs at bedtime tend to become “signalers” and cry for their parents to help them return to sleep. Developing regular bedtime routines and a consistent bedtime ritual is essential to encourage your baby to fall asleep independently.

Toddlers 1 to 2 years: Nap times are beginning to decrease. Naps
should not occur too close to bedtime because they can interfere with sleep. Many toddlers are resisting nighttime routines and are experiencing nightmares as they strive for independence. Their ability to get out of bed, separation anxiety, and the need for autonomy can lead to sleep problems. Maintain a consistent daily sleep schedule and routine which sets limits that are consistent, enforced, and regularly communicated. Encourage the use of a security object such as a toy or blanket.

Pre-schoolers 3-5 years: Most preschoolers are done napping by age 5. Pre-schoolers commonly experience night terrors with the development of imagination. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule with a relaxing routine at bedtime that ends in the room where the child sleeps. Pre-schoolers should sleep in the same environment each night, a room that’s quiet and dark with no television.

School-agers 6-13 years: School- agers are beginning to experience increased demands on their time from school, such as homework, sports, and after school activities. There is also increased interest in television, computers, and social media. Many children are also consuming caffeine products. All of these things can produce difficulty falling asleep, nightmares, and sleep disruptions. Electronic use should be discontinued one hour prior to sleep and should not be stored in the child’s room. Emphasize the need for consistent bedtime routines. Discourage consumption of caffeine.

Teenagers 14 and up: Teenagers have a shift in their circadian rhythms as they hit puberty, so they may have difficulty falling asleep as early as they have been accustomed to. Many teens have many afterschool activities like sports, clubs, part-time jobs, or family chores, in addition to homework that keeps them up longer in the evening. There is also ongoing socializing, computer and cell phone use that crams those evening hours and keeps them up late. Keep a
regular sleep schedule; teens should go to bed and wake up at about
the same time every night. This includes weekends. There should not be more than an hour difference from one night to the next. Keep all electronics out of the bedroom and turn off one hour prior to sleep time.
Sleep is an essential part of everyone’s routine and a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Studies have shown that children who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Inadequate sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and even depression. If your child is having daytime sleepiness or behavior difficulties in school that you think might be linked to lack of sleep, you should definitely visit your health care provider.

Cynthia Zeller is the owner of Brighter Futures Pediatrics & Lactation Services, LLC.

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