Why Your Child Needs a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is critical to a child’s everyday functioning and is as important as nutrition and exercise. When children get the sleep they need, they may have a lower risk of becoming overweight and developing diabetes and/or developing learning problems and attention issues.
Sleep promotes growth, helps the heart and can help their bodies fight germs. During sleep, both children and adults produce proteins known as cytokines, which the body relies on to fight infection, illness and stress. Experts have recently been able to show that sleep also allows brain cells to “take out the trash” each night, flushing out disease-causing toxins.
“School-age children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep per night,” explained Nabih AlSheikh, M.D., of Merit Health Wesley Sleep Center in Hattiesburg. He is board certified by the American Board of Sleep Medicine.
“Sleep is especially important for children because it can affect their mental and physical development,” Dr. AlSheikh said. “Having scheduled meals and bedtimes, reducing sugar intake before bed, and limiting the use of electronic devices and television viewing can help a child get a full night’s sleep and function better during the day.”
As most moms and dads already know, insufficient sleep has been associated with higher rates of aggression in children. Lack of sleep can also cause ADHD-like symptoms in children. Contrary to the situation with adults — who are slow and listless when tired — children become hyperactive and explosive as they try to compensate for their exhaustion.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following hours of sleep per night for children:
• Babies 4 months to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours
• Children 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours
• Children 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours
• Children 6 to 12 years old: 9 to 12 hours
• Teenagers 13 to 18 years old: 8 to 10 hours
Parents play a critical role in helping their children establish healthy sleep habits and preventing long-term sleep problems. There are several things parents might want to try to help a child get the amount of sleep needed:
Do not let your infant fall asleep while eating, and put the child to bed while still awake.
Create a solid routine.
Children should have a consistent bedtime ritual by three months of age that lasts no more than 30 to 40 minutes, bath included.
Set the stage for sleep.
Try to maintain the same temperature and level of light in your child’s room, including light from tablets and computer screens. Research has proven that just two hours of screen time right before bed is enough to lower levels of melatonin — a chemical that occurs naturally at night and signals sleep to the body — by 22 percent.
Keep allergens out of the bedroom.
It is important to keep bedrooms free of possible allergens, such as secondhand smoke, which can cause sleep-disordered breathing and insomnia.
Last, if you’re looking for a bedtime snack for your child, select one that’s high in protein and low in sugar.
“Parents should pay attention to their children’s sleep patterns,” Dr. AlSheikh said. “Signs that your child may have a sleep disorder include excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of focus, morning headaches, and irritability. If a child shows any of these symptoms, seek a healthcare professional.”
Ashley Schafer Karcher lives in Ocean Springs, Mississippi with her husband and four children.