Children And Sleep: Healthy Sleep Habits For Your Child
Sleep deprivation is widespread among children, especially when they're young. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), ¼ of children aged 1 to 5 get insufficient sleep due to poor sleep habits. Consequently, they become susceptible to sleep disorders such as behavioral insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea.
Children who lack adequate sleep may find it difficult to function during the daytime. Their immune systems will also have a hard time combatting illnesses. If poor sleep habits continue, their physical growth and cognitive development will ultimately suffer.
In this guide, you will learn why sleep is a fundamental building block for your child's wellbeing. You will also learn about the most common sleep problems your little ones may have and how to prevent them.
Why Sleep Is Important For Children
The average child has a long, busy day. They go to school, do homework and chores, play with friends, and explore the world. To do all this, they need to maintain a certain level of energy – a level that can only be achieved with quality, restful sleep. Sleep develops your child's young mind, allows the body to recover, and is part of a healthy lifestyle.
Children need robust cognitive function to absorb and understand new information. One of the main benefits of sleep is that it increases alertness and attention. This manifests through improved memorization, vocabulary acquisition, and behavior adaptability.
In addition to cognitive learning benefits, research shows that sleep invigorates and enhances your child's emotional ability – impacting their mood and ability to make decisions.
Restorative sleep also plays a vital role in physical growth, especially in infancy. For toddlers, daytime naps and a good night’s sleep are essential for executive attention, memory consolidation, and motor skill development.
Contrarily, insufficient sleep can lead to severe problems like obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure, and depression.
How Much Sleep Should Children Get?
Sleep needs vary from child to child. Depending on household habits and environmental factors, some sleep a lot while others sleep less. That being said, experts recommend a minimum amount of sleep based on different developmental stages.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has released the following sleep guidelines for parents.
|Developmental stage||Age||Recommended sleep hours|
|Infants||4 to 12 months old||12 to 16 hours|
|Toddlers||1 to 2 years old||11 to 14 hours|
|Young children||3 to 5 years old||10 to 13 hours|
|Children||6 to 12 years old||9 to 12 hours|
Below, we break down AASM's suggested sleep guidelines for children of different ages.
Infants (4 to 12 months old)
Infants between 4 and 12 months are at a critical stage in brain development, so they sleep longer than toddlers and children. With an average sleep of 14 hours a day, most infants need three naps every 24 hours: in the morning, afternoon, and early evening.
Infant napping needs may differ from person to person. Some nap for 20 minutes, while others sleep for three hours or more.
Toddlers (1 to 2 years old)
In this critical transitional stage of a child’s development, toddlers need an average of 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a day. Unlike infants who normally take three naps a day, toddlers may get by with just two.
Do not let your toddler oversleep in the afternoon. Limit afternoon naps to three hours or less – this ensures a proper bedtime routine in the evening.
Children (3 to 12 years old)
Young or preschool-aged children sleep an average of 10 to 13 hours a day, while older or school-aged children are recommended 9 to 12 hours of sleep.
At this age, children start developing a daily routine that requires both physical and mental exertion. They may also have academic, social, or extracurricular obligations that limit their ability to take naps throughout the day. Thus, it’s essential to establish a consistent bedtime routine to ensure restorative sleep.
However, this is also the stage where your child may develop poor sleep habits and resist the idea of sleeping. With more and more evening activities as they age, children may start experiencing sleep disturbances.
What Happens When Children Don't Get Enough Sleep?
Experts say that inadequate sleep can result in long-term effects on your health. In addition to decreased brain development and learning deficiencies that impact academic performance, it increases the risk of weight management problems, mental health issues, and restless leg syndrome.
A lack of sleep can also lead to or aggravate sleep disorders. 50% of children suffer from common sleep disorders at any given time. Sleep disturbance can also be a symptom of underlying behavioral insomnia or other conditions such as epilepsy.
Sleep Problems That Children Encounter
According to the American Psychiatric Association, various sleep problems can disrupt your child's sleep routines, depriving them of restorative sleep. These sleep problems impact sleep quality, duration, and timing and can reduce your child's ability to function.
Here are some common sleep disorders that parents should look out for:
Most children experience nightmares at some point in their lives. Nightmares can result in frequent awakenings, causing sleep disturbances.
Nightmares can be caused by many things, such as fevers or emotional turmoil. If your child is disturbed by their nightmares, make sure to cuddle and reassure them.
To decrease the intensity of nightmares, establish a relaxing routine before bedtime or use a night light to establish a reassuring atmosphere. Nightmares could also be caused by an underlying condition, so consider seeing a doctor if it persists despite other efforts.
Another prevalent sleep disturbance, bedwetting (a.k.a. nocturnal enuresis) is pretty common in children aged 2 to 7. At this age, your child is likely still developing their bladder control while asleep. While this condition isn't severe or inherently harmful, bedwetting can still upset your child's sleep and ruin their mattress.
Even if the problem persists, be patient and understanding – bedwetting is out of your child’s control. Medical prescriptions, moisture alarms, and lifestyle changes may prevent bedwetting from happening.
Night terrors or sleep terrors are different from nightmares. Night terrors are bouts of hysterical and involuntary body movements, accompanied by extreme fear that can last for seconds up to a few minutes. On the other hand, nightmares are vividly unpleasant dreams that can wake you up.
Often triggered by high fever, stress, or poor sleep habits, night terrors are typically persistent in children aged 4 to 12 but can also happen to infants as young as 18 months. Night terrors are a prevalent cause of night wakings, but most children outgrow them as they age.
Research shows that sleepwalking is common among children aged 2 to 13 years old. Sleepwalking is defined as walking around in a state of sleep. When your child sleepwalks, they may get up, walk around, and repeat movements – this can lead to injury or much worse.
The best thing you can do is guide them back to bed. While they may wake up in the middle of sleepwalking, do not wake them up on purpose so their sleep is not disrupted.
Sleep talking is a sleep disorder where your child talks while they’re asleep without being aware of it. Frequently occurring during light sleep, it is commonly associated with other sleep disorders like sleepwalking and nightmares.
Although it's harmless, sleep talking can disturb other people in the bedroom. Episodes of sleep talking can be reduced by establishing proper sleep routines and hygiene.
Sleep apnea is a condition that disrupts breathing during sleep. A harmful sleep disturbance disorder, this condition may lead to learning, behavioral, and even heart problems.
If your child’s snoring is characterized by pauses in breathing followed by heavy gasps, your child may have sleep apnea. One way to prevent or reduce the harm of sleep apnea is to change sleep positions.
If symptoms persist, seek professional help. Your child's specialist may advise physical activities and a specific diet to treat sleep apnea. Other treatments include nasal steroids, apnea alarms, and tonsil surgery.
Research shows that occasional snoring occurs in up to 27% of children. This type of mild snoring usually does not raise any serious issues. Children may experience snoring due to allergies, cold, weight gain, swollen tonsils, or secondhand smoke.
While irregular snoring usually wanes quickly without treatment, taking steps to prevent sleep-disordered breathing is essential for your child's wellbeing. If your child has been snoring more frequently than usual, talk with a medical professional. Snoring problems can be treated in a few ways, such as tonsils/adenoids surgery or positive airway pressure devices.
Tips To Make Sure Your Child Gets A Full Night's Sleep
The problem of putting your child to sleep isn't limited to babies and toddlers. Many school-aged children also develop a habit of refusing to go to bed or having difficulty falling asleep. Oftentimes, this issue can get out of hand, resulting in parental stress and sleep issues for youngsters.
Below are some tips to help your child get restorative sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Tips For Babies
- Create a comfortable sleeping space that you can easily supervise.
- Let them nap two or three times during the day.
- Cuddle or rock your baby to help them get comfortable with a variety of positions and surfaces.
- Use a pacifier to comfort or settle your baby.
- Allow your baby to stir and turn in their sleeping space until they settle on their own. If stirring persists for more than a few minutes, attend to them – they might be uncomfortable.
Sleep Hygiene Tips For Toddlers
- Establish a comfortable sleep schedule in your child's first year.
- Establish consistent nap schedules. Make sure they don’t take any naps in the late afternoon or early evening so as not to affect nighttime sleeping.
- Set up a dark, cozy sleeping space by using dark curtains to prevent outdoor light from seeping into the bedroom.
- Install an adjustable nightlight to encourage a sense of security and reduce sleep stimulation.
- If your toddler resists sleeping, be gentle yet firm in your decision. Consider giving rewards when they do go to bed on time, such as cooking their favorite meal or allowing extended playtime.
- Wind your child down with bedtime stories or other quiet activities before sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Tips For Children
- Avoid giving your child caffeine.
- Establish a healthy bedtime routine by having your child take a warm bath, read a book, talk about their day, and set the alarm clock.
- Buy an appropriate mattress for your child (e.g. twin or twin XL).
- Set limits on bedtime activities, especially those that are mentally or physically stimulating.
- Set a no-screens rule before bedtime. Limit the use of smartphones, tablets, televisions, or video games in the hours before sleeping.
- Encourage afternoon naps.
- If your child experiences night terrors, comfort and reassure them as soon as possible.
- Educate your child about the benefits of proper sleep.
Insufficient sleep leads to lethargy, irritability, and a loss of concentration in children. This could negatively impact their academics, growth, and overall well-being.
If your child is not sleeping enough, establish healthy sleep habits to encourage their mental and physical development. And if all else fails, get advice from a medical professional or doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions About Children And Sleep
How does sleep affect a child's behavior?
Not getting enough sleep can affect your child’s focus, recollection, and behavior. It will also impact their ability to learn and digest information. In contrast, a good night's sleep improves cognitive function and provides them with the energy they need to get through the day.
Does sleep affect child development?
Sleep is critical for developing your child's motor skills, physical growth, and mental function. It promotes the development of growth hormones and enhances focus, mood, and memory.
What are some common sleep problems for children?
The most common sleep problems found in children are sleep apnea, behavioral insomnia, restless legs syndrome, sleep talking or sleepwalking, nightmares or night terrors, and bedwetting.