A Good Night's Rest
For most adults, an uninterrupted nine hours of sleep at night or a peaceful mid-afternoon nap are about as close to heaven as it gets. It’s no wonder. Studies reveal Americans simply don’t get enough shuteye. For children and teens, poor sleep can negatively affect their health, relationships and school performance.
Experts say the sleep patterns developed early in childhood typically carry through to teen years, and even adulthood. So helping your child to establish better habits now can benefit him the “rest” of his life.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
Although the amount of sleep each child needs depends on his or her own natural sleep cycle, the National Sleep Foundation suggests the following guidelines:
- 1-3 years old: 12-14 hours per day
- 3-6 years old: 11-12 hours per day
- 7-12 years old: 9-11 hours per day
- 12-18 years old: 8-9 1/2 hours per day
As a general rule, when a child wakes up refreshed, it’s a sign they’ve gotten a decent slumber.
Why Kids Need Adequate Shut-eye
Sleep provides an important restorative function for children, both mentally and physically. Scientists report that during sleep our brain sorts and processes information, and recharges itself.
As Polly Conley, pediatric nurse practitioner with the Children’s Medical Clinic in Roseville, explains, adequate sleep is a physiological necessity for growing children and adolescents. “There are a lot of things our body does only when we’re sleeping,” she says. “One of those functions is producing growth hormones, something especially important in childhood.”
Sleep is particularly important for teenagers, says Conley, a group she credits with “horrible sleep hygiene.” “Their bodies are heading into a big time of change and have a lot of work to do,” she says. “Yet teenagers often stay up late doing homework or playing video games during the week, then sleep all day on the weekends. It’s just not a healthy sleep pattern.”
Continued sleep deprivation, or sleep debt, can have serious consequences. Getting inadequate sleep weakens the immune system and can cause emotional and behavioral problems, inattention and hyperactivity. Additionally, the impact to a student’s creativity, decision making and memory can affect overall school performance. And daytime sleepiness hampers sports achievement and driving ability. What’s more, a recent Johns Hopkins study showed lack of sleep can increase a child’s risk for obesity.
Quality, Not Just Quantity
Just because a child goes to bed on schedule doesn’t necessarily mean she’s getting uninhibited sleep. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2004 Sleep in America poll found two-thirds of children experience frequent sleep problems.
Teething, digestive problems, ear infections, nightmares/night terrors, sleep apnea, sleepwalking and bedwetting are all issues that can interrupt sleep in younger children. In older kids, stress and anxiety tend to play a big role in insomnia.
Experts encourage parents to consult their physician if a child has persistent problems getting to sleep, snores loudly on a regular basis or wakes frequently throughout the night.
According to Conley, the trick to creating a healthy sleeper at any age is to establish a regular sleep schedule. “What’s true for babies and toddlers is good for teenagers too,” she says. “Being consistent and setting boundaries around bedtimes is really important for every child, and especially for toddlers.” She says that the sleep habits formed in young kids set the stage for the rest of their lives.
It’s 10 p.m.…Do you know if your child is sleeping?
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