Getting enough sleep is a growing concern for children. Children under 14 are visiting hospitals for sleep disorders more three times as more frequently as they used to, and studies suggest British students are the most sleep-deprived children in Europe.
Factors working against sleep for children include busy schedules and technology. A poor diet can contribute as well. Children may find it difficult to get to sleep early enough to make it to school on time without losing sleep, especially high school students.
Children need approximately 10 hours of sleep each night. However, needs can vary depending on the child and their age. Five-year-olds should sleep about 11 hours, 10-year-olds 10 hours, and 15-year-olds nine hours.
Sleeping well is essential for functioning well. Children who don’t sleep enough can suffer academically and socially as fatigue chips away at their concentration, energy, and behaviour.
Children who don’t get enough sleep can experience problems with alertness, learning, and memory. However, when they get enough sleep, children have a greater ability to retain and mentally organize new information. This brain engagement is essential for learning and growing.
In teenagers, the consequences for missing out on sleep can be even more significant. As teens have higher physical and mental demands, they need restorative sleep, but often don’t get it. They don’t perform at their best at school, driving, sports, and health. When teens don’t sleep enough, they are at a higher risk of moodiness, anxiety, depression, suicide, poor grades, obesity, and drowsy driving.
Parents can help support healthy sleep. Encourage a robust sleep schedule, keeping it consistent day to day. Consistency is key, as children learn what to expect each night and this can cut down on bedtime resistance. It can help them get to sleep on time, and get more restful sleep as their bodies learn to predict when they’ll be going to bed, and therefore begin to relax and slow down at the same time each night.
Maintaining a bedtime routine, even a straightforward one, can be helpful in improving sleep. Going through the same few activities before bed each night offers more consistency and can encourage them to calm down and relax before going to sleep. It doesn’t matter what you do as much as simply doing it consistently.
Make sleep a priority, scheduling activities around sleep and not the other way around. Determine how much sleep your child needs each night, what time they need to wake up in the morning, and what time they need to go to bed to get enough sleep. Then adjust bedtimes accordingly.
A healthy part of any bedtime routine is putting a stop to screen time. Screens from TVs, computers, and mobile devices emit a blue light, which can be confusing for a child’s circadian rhythm. This blue light sends a signal that it’s daytime, and time to be awake and alert, which can interfere with sleep at night. Encourage your child to shut off screens at least one hour before bed each night. It’s also a good idea to avoid scary TV and movies at night, which can lead to nightmares and trouble sleeping.
Late night meals, heavy exercise, and caffeine consumption should be avoided as well. However, don’t let kids go to bed hungry. They may have difficulty sleeping if they’re hungry, so ask kids if they want a small, healthy snack before bed.
Make sure their bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. Bedrooms should be quiet, dark, and cool. Choose a comfortable mattress with a foundation or box spring, and help them pick sheets and a comforter that are soft and not scratchy. Don’t allow screens in their room, and choose a bedroom wall color that’s good for sleep, such as light blue.
Address major sleep issues. If your child is chronically short on sleep and shows signs of a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, get help. Talk to your child’s doctor if they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, snore regularly, or experience sleep problems that interfere with their ability to function daily.
Practice healthy sleep habits yourself. Setting a good example for your children can help them develop healthy sleep habits as they learn from you. Make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding sleep pitfalls like late night screen time.
Disclosure: This commissioned was produced in association with Tuck.