30 Sep Children and Sleep: How much do they need and how can we help them sleep better?
Sleep is one of the most important factors in a child’s healthy development. It is certainly important for all ages, but it is particularly vital for children, as it plays a crucial role in their brain development, their general well-being, and their physical and mental health. Specialists point out that the quality and quantity of sleep can also affect the ability to focus, learning abilities, relationships, children’s emotional state, even their weight.
Lack of sleep in early childhood has been linked to allergic rhinitis, problems with the immune system, anxiety and depression. In older children, lack of sleep can mean poor school performance, bad mood, irritability and poor mental health. Thus, we make sure to always help them relax on time, so they can enjoy the quantity and quality of sleep that they need.
The amount of sleep needed is different for every age, but there are general recommendations we can follow, which can be adjusted to each child’s individual schedule.
- Newborns (0-3 months): Newborns need approximately 14-17 hours of sleep a day, although their schedule is disruptive due to feedings and diaper changes.
- Infants (4-11 months): Infants need about 12-15 hours of sleep a day, but their sleep is also often interrupted by frequent feedings.
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Toddlers need approximately 11-14 hours of sleep, which includes an afternoon nap.
- Preschool (3-5 years): Children at this age need about 10-13 hours of sleep a day.
- School age (6-13 years): At this age children need approximately 9-11 hours of sleep a day.
- Adolescence (14-17 years): Teenagers need about 8-10 hours of sleep a day but often have trouble sleeping due to changes in their biological clock.
As children grow, they continue to form their own needs and preferences, so it’s important to take these into account when implementing the ideal schedule for them.
Sleep issues often arise in younger ages. They can sometimes be caused by something that appears insignificant to us, but intense enough to disturb a child’s sleep. Such events include a change in their everyday life or their environment, a new caregiver, or even a change in their routine. Additionally, physical conditions such as teething, colds or allergies can also affect sleep. It is of course possible that some children present more serious sleep disorders, with the most common being nightmares and night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking, snoring, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
While supplements or medication should only be provided under a doctor’s supervision, there are plenty of other things we can do to ensure our children relax and enjoy a good night’s sleep. First of all, we can find a sleep routine that suits the child and his or her schedule, and then follow that consistently. By following the same steps every night, the child knows what to anticipate and is properly prepared for it. We can also make sure to implement a no-screens rule at least half an hour before bedtime. A child’s sleep environment should be dark, cool and quiet, and not used for other activities except sleeping.
Of course, we must never overlook the importance of a healthy diet and physical exercise. Avoiding heavy meals at least two hours before bedtime is crucial, while consuming beverages with caffeine could disturb sleeping patterns since they stimulate our body and mind, preventing us from relaxing. Physical exercise on the other hand, is very helpful, though we should be careful not to overdo it. In cases where the child becomes overtired, they can get hyper which would lead to difficulty falling asleep.
If there is a need to calm a baby during nighttime, we should try to do so as quietly as possible – a good idea is to only switch on a small nightlight and try to soothe the baby without picking it up. If you are having difficulties convincing a toddler to go to sleep, a good tip is to let them have some control over their routine, such as letting them pick out their pyjamas or choosing the relaxing activity they would like to do before bedtime.
If you have a teenager in the house, it’s good to have a dedicated space outside the bedroom for their non-sleeping activities, such as reading, playing, or using electronic devices. Additionally, we should not forget that we are the living example for teenagers and adolescents. If we follow a healthy sleep schedule, it’s more likely that our children follow one also!
With these small but significant adjustments, we can help children enjoy the sleep they need for proper, healthy development. Of course, we must make sure to consult with our doctor if we notice that sleeping issues/disorders persist. Sleep is important, and we must give it the consideration it deserves early on!