Is your child getting enough zzz’s at night? Do they wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed or do you find yourself peeling them away from their bed each morning?
While some kids just aren’t morning people, they also might not be getting good sleep.
“Sleep is a very important part of your child’s mental, physical and emotional health,” said Walter Castro, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist with Banner Children's. “But if they aren't getting enough or improper sleep, it can potentially lead to health issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure and even depression.”
As a parent, you want to make sure your children are getting proper sleep, but how do you know if they are getting it—and how much do they really need?
How much sleep does my child really need?
Many parents wonder, “How much sleep should my child get each night?” Sometimes it feels like they get too much and other times too little. Dr. Castro shared these recommendations, so you know the right amount of sleep for every age:
How many hours of sleep should my child get each night?
- Birth to 2 months: 16 to 20 hours
- 3 months to 12 months: 9 to 12 hours (1 - 4 naps)
- 1 to 3 years: 12 to 13 hours (1 - 2 naps)
- 3 to 5 years: 11 to 12 hours (0 -1 nap)
- 6 to 12 years: 10 to 11 hours (no nap)
- 13 to 18 years: 9 to 9.5 hours
“This is very important information because if a 6-year-old child or older still requires naps, that indicates there’s a possible sleep disorder,” Dr. Castro said. “The opposite is also true. If a patient requires more sleep than the above, that is also highly suspicious of a sleep disorder.”
5 signs your child is getting poor sleep
If you think your child isn't getting enough sleep, look for these signs og sleep deprivation:
- Early morning or chronic headaches. These can be symptoms of sleep apnea.
- Problems concentrating and staying awake. Are they having a hard time focusing during the day? Do they complain they are tired or want a nap?
- Hyperactivity. While daytime sleepiness is an obvious sign of poor sleep, hyperactivity and a lack of impulse control can also result from a lack of sleep. They may appear to be literally “bouncing off the walls.” Some signs commonly associated with ADHD may actually be sleep-related instead, though both issues can be connected.
- Poor academic performance. Sleep benefits the brain and promotes attention, memory and analytical thought, so it’s easy to see why kids who don’t get enough sleep tend to suffer from excessive drowsiness and lack of attention that can negatively affect their academic performance.
- Difficulty waking in the morning. “As one of my mentors said, ‘It’s not about sleep; it’s about wake,” Dr. Castro said. Waking too much throughout the night or moving a lot during sleep can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Not wanting to leave the bed is another sign a child’s rest isn’t helping them feel refreshed.
Can sleep issues occur at different ages?
“Yes, they can!” Dr. Castro said. “Sleep challenges that occur with newborns and infants can certainly differ from young children and adults.”
Newborns and infants: Sleep issues that occur at this age are usually secondary to sleep breathing disorders.
Pre-kinder to elementary school-aged: Children may experience insomnia, difficulty waking up, snoring (with sleep apnea), recurrent nightmares, sleepwalking, night terrors and sleep restlessness in addition to the signs listed above.
Older children including adolescents: They can present with all the previous signs but also insomnia associated with anxiety, major depression and other psychiatric conditions that usually appear in middle or high school.
Improve your child’s chances for quality sleep
While there may not be any more bedtime stories with your teenager, there are some things all parents can do to help improve their child’s chances for quality sleep at any age. Here are some recommendations:
- Set a bedtime routine. This means lights out at the same time every night.
- Turn electronics off two hours before bed. If it’s possible, have your teen go old school with a pencil and paper versus a computer or tablet. Or opt to change their settings to “Night Mode” to reduce blue light if they have homework to complete before bedtime.
- Stop physical activities two hours before bed too. This means sports, dance and even roughhousing with siblings or friends.
- Encourage calm activities like reading, a meditation app or a warm bath/shower. These activities can help prepare the brain and body for rest.
- See a sleep specialist if your child is struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep or is showing signs of poor sleep. "Seeing a sleep specialist can be especially helpful and thorough because their specialty combines pulmonary (lungs), neurology (brain), psychiatry and psychology," Dr. Castro said.
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