The Importance of Sleep: How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need?

Importance of Sleep

Is your child getting enough sleep at night?

OK, I’m ready to take a lot of heat for this but I’m going to brag about how great my kids are when it comes to sleeping. I’ve been blessed with two little ones who know the importance of sleep and have been going to bed at night, every night, since they were little babies. Now that they’re 3 and 6 years old, their sleeping patterns have not wavered and they routinely go to bed every night at 7:30pm without issue and I know we’re very lucky. But what about the thousands of families out there where sleep is definitely and issue night after night? What about those kids that have a tough time sleeping through the night or that won’t even go to sleep at a decent hour? For those families, the importance of sleep in their homes is an even bigger issue, more than you know.

It’s not something widely discussed but the amount and quality of sleep a child gets every night is every bit of a health issue as nutrition and exercise. Without the proper amount of sleep, those little brains can’t get the rest they need to function properly during the day in school and bad sleep patterns develop that can follow a child throughout their entire life. If you’re noticing that your child is becoming more moody, is not getting good grades in school or is more prone than others to catching colds and fevers, it may be time to tackle the sleep issue head on as these can be tell tale signs of a bigger sleep related problem.

Dr. Jeannine Gingras, founder of Gingras Sleep Medicine in Charlotte, NC recently wrote in the Charlotte Observer about some ways that parents can intervene and help their child get more quality sleep.

Try these steps:

1. Monitor the hours your child sleeps – not the hours in bed.

2. Provide a consistent, soothing bedtime routine, including a “wind down” time.

3. Have your child avoid stimulating activities before sleep such as video games, texting, TV, or aggressive exercise.

4. Caffeine is a stimulant. Limit soft drinks and chocolate in your child’s diet (and coffee, too, for teens).

5. Do not provide a TV or computer in your child’s room. If your teen has sleep issues, insist that the laptop, cell phone, iPad or other electronic devices be used somewhere besides the bedroom. I know that’s not a fun proposition, but your teen will feel better after sleeping well.

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These are all really good ways to help children get a better nights sleep and following these guidelines can only help sleep disorders that may be developing in your own household. Set rules for your children that follow these guidelines such as making sure they do not eat junk food before bed or that they start winding down a half hour before bedtime to make the transition to sleep much easier. Just incorporating one or two of these ideas and making it consistent ever night can go a long way to solving a sleep problem in your home.

So the question remains, ideally how much time do we want our children to sleep every night? Dr. Gingras went on to give some very good recommendations that, from my investigation, follow just about every other pediatrician’s advice.

How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need?

– Newborns: 12-16 hours in total in short sleeping periods.

– Infants, toddlers and preschoolers: 11-14 hours, including naps.

– Kindergartners to 8th graders: 9-10 hours a night.

– 9-12th graders: 9.25 hours a night.

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These are not rules written in stone and obviously there needs to be some flexibility to match the way your home works, but for the most part if you can target these nightly averages and come within an hour or so then you’re doing very good. In my household the times are pretty strict, except on weekends when we’ve been known to stray from the norm by an hour or so. But for the most part our children’s bed times are around the same time every night and it has worked out very well.

If I could make any recommendation it would be to pick a target bed time and DO NOT stray from it for at least 3-4 weeks to begin building a pattern for your children. After those first few weeks it will start to become habit but you need to be as strict as possible those first few weeks or it will be harder later on. It’s like any other change in life, sometimes it takes time to build these good habits but the result is a well rested child who is doing well in school, eating properly and that is worth the effort.

The importance of sleep has to be a priority in every family so try to institute some small changes and find out what a positive difference it makes in your child’s life.

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