By April Morris, LCSW, Therapist
Lack of Sleep Can Affect Children's Health
Sleep is as vital to life as the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the water you drink—an essential building block for your child's mental and physical health. Adolescents ideally need 8-10 hours of sleep each night, and most have poor sleep habits—staying up late and sleeping in when they can. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that sleep problems affect 25-50 percent of children and 40 percent of adolescents. Sleep can also be an issue for toddlers (and, consequently, their parents).
Lack of sleep can have severe consequences, including limiting a child's ability to learn, listen, and concentrate. It can also lead to aggression or other inappropriate behaviors, illness, unhealthy eating habits, weight gain, acne, and other skin problems.
"Poor sleep in early childhood has been linked to allergic rhinitis, problems with the immune system, anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure." -Sleep Foundation
How to Improve Your Child's Sleep
If your child isn't getting enough sleep, try these ten tips for helping them develop healthy sleep habits.
- Make sleep a priority by helping your children develop sleep schedules and establish consistent bedtime routines.
- Encourage your children to avoid exercising or screen time before going to bed; and promote quiet, calm activities that signal to their bodies that it's time to sleep.
- Make the bedroom a no-screen zone—even during the day.
- Provide a healthy diet.
- Set the thermostat to a cooler temperature.
- Avoid caffeine, large meals, and sugary treats before bedtime.
- Set a good example. Teenagers tend to imitate their parents when it comes to sleeping, so one of the best things you can do is to keep a healthy sleep pattern yourself.
- Create a consistent awake time. Even though it's tempting to let your kids sleep in on the weekends, this can disrupt their sleep schedule and make it harder to wake up during the week.
- If your child suffers from insomnia, consider addressing these issues with a therapist or psychiatrist.
- Track your child's sleep using a FitBit or sleep log. If you do seek professional help, this will be helpful for the provider in determining if sleep medications are appropriate.
What to Do for Night Terrors and Nightmares (from the Sleep Foundation)
Nightmares can be frightening for toddlers, who have a harder time distinguishing what's real and what's not. Children often wake up from nightmares, which usually occur during REM sleep. If this happens, offer them reassurance and gently put them back to sleep.
Night terrors, otherwise known as sleep terrors, are a parasomnia that occurs early in the night during non-REM sleep in about one-third of children. Your children may scream and bolt upright during a night terror, but they won't usually wake up or remember the incident in the morning. The best thing you can do is make sure your child is safe, trying to keep them in bed if possible. There's no need to wake them up or worry if your child experiences the occasional night terror, but if they become very frequent or if they're causing daytime sleepiness, they're worth mentioning to your pediatrician.
- Getting Some Zzzzz's: The Importance of Sleep (Podcast Episode)
- "Talking Sleep" Podcast (by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine)
- How to Sleep Better: 15 Science-Backed Tips for Your Best Rest (Headspace)
- How to Get on a Sleep Schedule (Sleep.org)