Getting your child to go to bed is not always easy. However, good sleep is vital for a child’s well-being and can cause more than just tiredness in the morning.
Inadequate sleep – whether too short or poor quality – causes specific changes in mood and thinking, says Dr. Dean Beebe, director of the neuropsychology program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“First, inadequate sleep causes everyone, including children, to be biased towards seeing the world in a more negative light and less in a positive one,” he says. “Even more, inadequate sleep causes children (perhaps even more than adults) to have problems regulating the ups and downs in their moods, leading to wider and more rapid reactions to relatively minor events. Children who don’t get enough sleep also don’t pay attention as well, are less likely to think before they act, and don’t seem able to solve problems as well.”
In fact, not getting enough sleep really affects every aspect of a child’s well-being and functioning, adds Dr. Jodi Mindell, Associate Director at the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
“Children who don’t get sufficient sleep at night, are more likely to be overactive and noncompliant, as well as being more withdrawn and anxious.”
There are some signs that parents can look for to determine whether their child could have a sleep problem. If a child has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, there could be a problem. Other signs include snoring or other breathing problems while sleeping, having a tough time waking up in the morning, sleepiness during the day, problems paying attention, becoming very moody or grouchy, or acting without thinking.
To prevent sleep problems in children, parents should establish positive sleeping habits. These habits include setting a bedtime, having a consistent bedtime routine, and encouraging children to fall asleep independently. In addition, keeping all electronics out of the bedroom will help children to get a good night’s sleep.
How can parents know when they should take their child to see a sleep specialist? If parents are having trouble getting their children to go to sleep at bedtime or stay asleep during the night, then it is a good time to start looking for help.
“In those cases, the best treatment is behavioral, not medicinal, but don’t underestimate how hard it can be to change behaviors,” warns Dr. Beebe. “If parents notice that their child snores loudly most nights or is very restless at night (e.g., their covers are a tangled mess in the morning), they may have a very treatable sleep disorder that is causing poor quality sleep. So parents should talk to their child’s primary care doctor.”
As far as how much sleep children should be getting, Mindell recommends these sleeping guildelines for children of different ages.
- 3 months – 1 year need about 14 – 15 hours a day.
- 1 – 3 years should sleep for 12 – 14 hours a day.
- 3 – 5 years need 11 – 12 hours of sleep a day.
- 6 – 12 years require sleep for 10 – 11 hours a