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Why Sleep Is So Important for Kids

Posted on Dec 21, 2015

sleepWhile sleeping children look peaceful and still, their brains actually hard at work processing everything they learned during the day and replenishing energy stores in preparation for the next day. “Children who get enough sleep feel great during the day, do better in school and tend to have fewer behavioral problems,” says Paul Protter, M.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. In this blog post, Dr. Protter explains how you can support your child’s health by making sure he or she regularly gets sufficient quality sleep.

How much sleep does my child need?

Although there is no one-size-fits-all number, in general toddlers and preschoolers need 11 to 12 hours of sleep, school-age children at least 10 hours and teens about nine to 10 hours per day.

What’s the best way to establish a good sleep routine?

Every child can benefit from a bedtime routine that encourages good sleep habits. Use these tips as a guide to help your child fall asleep more easily:

  • Stick to a regular bedtime and give your child a heads-up when bedtime is approaching.
  • Create a calming, familiar bedtime routine. Dim the lights, sing a lullaby and read a book together.
  • Let your baby or young child learn to settle and soothe him or herself to sleep. This is one of the best gifts you can give your child to help encourage lifelong good sleep.
  • Turn off all screens (TVs, tablets, phones and laptops) before you start your wind-down routine, and keep screens and chargers out of the bedroom. Studies have shown that the bright light from screens suppresses melatonin, the hormone that our bodies make to help us sleep.
  • Encourage teens to set and maintain a bedtime.

How do I know if my daughter is getting enough sleep?

Children need a fairly predictable amount of sleep to be happy and function well. You’ll be able to tell if your daughter is getting enough sleep based on how she behaves during the day. Although she won’t necessarily appear sleepy, if it seems like she is on an emotional roller coaster – happy and wound-up one moment, then upset and cranky the next – try making sure she gets more sleep.

Are there any sleep disorders that might stop my son from sleeping well?

There are a number of things that can disrupt a child’s sleep.

  • Nightmares and night terrors both disrupt sleep, although they are actually very different. If your son is experiencing a nightmare, you will be able to gently wake him up and comfort him. Providing a nightlight or leaving his bedroom door open can be reassuring and help him get back to sleep. Night terrors, on the other hand, take place during the deepest stage of your child’s sleep. A child experiencing a night terror cannot be woken – the only thing to do is to wait it out.
  • Sleepwalking. If your child sleepwalks, make sure his surroundings are safe, doors and windows are secured and there are no sharp edges or obstacles nearby. If you find your son sleepwalking, gently guide him back to bed.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea. A cold may cause your son to snore but if he doesn’t have a cold and is snoring a lot, he might have sleep apnea. Daytime symptoms may include sluggishness, irritability and difficulty getting up in the morning.
  • Bedwetting. This is still quite common for children under five and can disrupt their sleep. If your son is over five and still wetting the bed, check in with his doctor.

How do I handle my daughter’s sleep schedule during summer or other vacations?

During vacations, it’s OK to be flexible about your daughter’s usual bedtime routine and shift sleep times to enjoy those long summer days and special vacation activities. The most important thing is that your daughter gets enough sleep. As the start of school approaches, start easing back into her usual sleep routine.

Physician_PCR_PAMF_PaulProtter_20090508 Paul Protter, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.