But you can only tell them to get to bed so many times, right? What can you do to make sure your kids are getting the sleep they need?
Let’s take a walk through the importance of sleep for growing bodies, how much your kids should be getting and ways to help them get the rest they need.
Why Is Sleep a Big Deal?
We've known for many years that sleep is critical to recovery and the development of brain functions. Research has shown that during a night's rest, your brain is converting short-term memories into long-term ones. There is even evidence we're learning while sleeping.
A more recent study has pointed to evidence that the brain is "flushing out its own waste" at night. This clean-up process allows fluid to wash the brain clean and clear away toxic proteins. Researchers have speculated that this process uses up a vast amount of energy, which is why it takes place during sleep.
The Effects of Sleep on a Child’s Growth
Although this idea has been around for some time, new research has backed up the belief that uninterrupted sleep is imperative for children due to the release of a particular growth hormone. This hormone, hGH, is essential to tissue and muscle development, and it's critical that children are sleeping soundly without interruptions.
Lack of Sleep and ADHD-Like Symptoms
We've discussed the issue of misdiagnosis of ADHD before, and it's a big problem in the United States. In fact, some estimates point to a misdiagnosis of over 1 million U.S. children. (In 2016, more than 6 million U.S. kids were diagnosed with ADHD.) But what if the major issue was not ADHD but a lack of sleep instead?
Think about the symptoms of sleep deprivation in children: Moodiness, irritability, temper tantrums, "the tendency to emotionally 'explode' at the slightest provocation" and over-activity and hyperactive behavior. And the common symptoms for ADHD? Quick temper or "short fuse," difficulty playing quietly or relaxing, fidgets and squirms and impatient. These sets of symptoms are not far off from one another.
The director of the Pediatric Sleep Research Center in St. Louis, Dr. Shalini Paruthi, believes that many of these misdiagnoses can be attributed to lack of sleep. Another study presented at SLEEP 2015 found that children who are diagnosed with ADHD may see their symptoms worsen when sleep deprived.
How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?
The amount of sleep a child needs depends not only on age but the demands of their individual bodies. Here are some good sleep baselines to consider when establishing how much sleep your own child needs, recommended as per the National Sleep Foundation:
- Newborns (0-3 mos): 14-17 hours per day
- Infants (4-11 mos): 12-15 hours per day
- Toddlers (1-2 yrs): 11-14 hours per day
- Preschoolers (3-5 yrs): 10-13 hours per day
- School-Age Children (6-13 yrs): 9-11 hours per day
- Teens (14-17 yrs): 8-10 hours per day
But remember, some bodies may need more, some may need less. Help your child decide how many hours may work best for them.
6 Ways to Create Healthy Sleep Habits in Kids
So, with all that in mind… what can you do? Here are a few healthy sleep habits that’ll help your kids get those quality ZZZs!
Stick to a Schedule: Regular bedtimes and wake times are important when it comes to building good sleep habits. Keep a sleep journal to figure out the right amount for your child; record the hours of sleep and their behavior during the day for a week. Once you’ve settled on the right length of sleep time, be sure to consistently wake your child around the same time—even on the weekends. Allowing them to “sleep-in” on certain days can disrupt their internal clock, or circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep at night and stick to their weekday sleep schedule.
Create a Routine: Children thrive on routine. Doing the same things around the same time each night, like taking baths (add organic lavender bath bubbles for an extra calming effect), putting out clothes for the morning or reading together helps your child feel comfortable and relaxed. And keep your routine simple so it can be easily repeated by your partner or caregiver when needed.
Limit Screen Time: Research shows that overexposure to artificial light, specifically blue light, inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone crucial to sleep cycles. Many kids (and adults—yes you!) are so devoted to their tablets, cell phones, computer screens and TVs that it may seem difficult to enforce this rule. But it’s worth it; even a half-hour of lost melatonin production could mean an extra two hours spent struggling to fall asleep. Power down your family’s devices at least an hour before bed and spend time talking, reading or playing quietly.
Keep it Cool: Experts recommend to keep bedroom temps slightly cool at night to set the stage for deeper, uninterrupted sleep. So turn that thermostat down in the evening to around 68 degrees and dress your child appropriately so they’re still comfortable if blankets get kicked off during the night.
Snack it Up: Heard the old advice about drinking a glass of warm milk before bedtime? Well, times have changed and there are other healthier, sleep-inducing snacks to choose from, like bananas, Greek yogurt or organic turkey. These all contain tryptophan, a sleep-triggering amino acid. A small snack, one to two hours before bed, leaves kids satisfied before they hit the hay. And remember, bedtime is no time for sweets. Fend off late night sugar highs by avoiding all grains and sugars!
Try Something Different: If traditional bedtime tips just aren’t working for your child, consider introducing something new to your routine, like a sequence of stress-releasing yoga poses. Yoga before bedtime allows your child to shift focus from a busy day. Kids of all ages may fall asleep easier and sleep deeper due to the calming benefits of yoga postures, and the associated relaxation and breathing techniques. Look for a kids’ yoga class at your local park district or fitness facility and then incorporate some poses into your bedtime routine.