Do you remember the nights when your child had a disturbed sleep or the groggy morning following it when your child refused to cooperate? Having a good-quality sleep each night is crucial for your child’s health and development. Poor sleep can tire your child and also affect your sleep.
As a parent, it is imperative you know how long your child is expected to sleep and spot patterns when they have sleep problems. Frequent instances of poor, disturbed sleep in your child can indicate behavior or developmental problems.
Read on as we tell you the importance of sleep in children and give you a few handy tips to let your children sleep better. We also tell you a few childhood sleep problems that you should look out for.
Importance Of Sleep For Kids
You must inculcate healthy sleeping habits in your child as good-quality sleep (1):
- Improves memory.
- Promotes optimum growth and development in children.
- Increases concentration.
- Improves attention.
- Ensures your child’s heart and the circulatory system function well.
- Helps your child maintain a healthy weight.
- Boosts your child’s immune system.
How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
Children of different ages require different amounts of sleep. It is normal for newborns to sleep for long periods during the day. The amount of sleep that children need reduces as they grow older.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended amount of sleep in children is as follows (2):
|Age||Duration (per day)|
|Under 1 year of age||12–16 hours|
|1–2 years||11–14 hours|
|3–5 years||10–13 hours|
|6–12 years||9–12 hours|
|13–18 years||8–10 hours|
What Happens When Children Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
As a parent, you might know how cranky, irritable, and grumpy your child becomes if they have fallen short of sleep the previous night. If one night’s sleep can make this difference in your child’s behavior, chronic sleep deficiency or poor-quality sleep can have a more significant effect on your child. Some of these effects include (3) (4):
- Delayed growth
- Poor attentiveness
- Weak immune system, resulting in allergic rhinitis
- Increased risk of obesity
- Long-term health effects such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiac and respiratory diseases
- Hyperactive nature
- Poor concentration
- Emotional and social problems
- Behavioral problems
Tips To Get Your Kids To Sleep
Although every child’s schedule and sleeping patterns are different, a defined sleep schedule and healthy sleep habits can better help them deal with sleep problems.
Here are some handy tips to help your kids sleep better.
1. Create a consistent bedtime routine
One way of ensuring your child sleeps well is to set up a bedtime routine for them. This includes encouraging your child to get into bed at the same time each night, as this helps create a sleeping pattern. A good bedtime routine can include taking a bath, changing into pajamas, listening to or reading a short story, and turning off the room lights.
2. Turn off the screens before bedtime
Children these days spend a great deal of time on the screened devices. However, the blue light from these devices can affect your child’s sleeping pattern. It can trick your child’s brain into thinking it is still daytime, thus causing sleep troubles. Removing screened devices a good two to three hours before bedtime ensures your child sleeps on time.
3. Set a wake-up time
Like you fix a time for your child to go to bed, ensure your child wakes up at a specified time each morning. This keeps your child’s body clock (circadian rhythm) functioning well and helps form a pattern. Maintaining consistency in your child’s sleep schedule, as per their age, is crucial to make sure they get a good night’s sleep.
4. Reduce stress before bedtime
Stressful situations during the day or just before sleep can make it difficult for your child to sleep. It may be a good idea to calm your child and allow them to relax and unwind before their bedtime. Different children prefer different modes of relaxation — some prefer reading, some like listening to stories, some like listening to songs, and others love talking to their parents — before they eventually drift off to sleep. These activities need to be a part of your child’s bedtime routine as they help calm the mind.
5. Create a sleep-inducing environment
A child’s room must be conducive to sleep during the night. This means keeping it dark, cool, and quiet. As younger children would prefer some light in the room, it may be a good idea to get a dim night lamp for them. You could also play some rhythmic noise or sound before bedtime.
6. Reduce the focus on sleep
While any parent’s main aim during their child’s bedtime is to get them to sleep, focusing too much on the ‘sleep’ itself can be counterproductive. Rather than instructing your child to ‘go to bed,’ or ‘close their eyes,’ it may be a good idea to focus on calming and relaxing them, which will automatically induce sleep.
7. Be active during the day
Children of all ages need to be active during the day. Encourage activities that can help them spend their energy and get a good night’s sleep each day.
8. Talk to your child’s teacher or childcare provider
Often, parents are unaware of their child’s sleep problems. If you suspect your child has a sleeping problem, it may be a good idea to speak with their teacher or childcare provider to understand their behavior during the day. Enquire if your child is often sleepy or lethargic during the day.
9. Avoid being too strict
Sometimes, parents focus so much on their child’s sleeping time that it becomes a forceful activity. Avoid being overly strict. It is normal if your child wants to sleep a few minutes post or before their bedtime occasionally.
Read the next section to learn about some common sleep problems in children.
Sleep Problems In Children
Sleep problems can occur in children of different ages. Children may either find it difficult to fall or stay asleep. A study published in the American Academy of Family Physicians Journal states that around 50% of children experience some sleep problems in their childhood (2).
Some of the common sleep problems that can occur in children include:
1. Night terrors and nightmares
If your child wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, it can cause you to worry. This most commonly occurs due to nightmares or night terrors experienced by your child.
Nightmares usually occur in the early morning hours when your child is dreaming (5). Nightmares are common in pre-schoolers and school-going children. Your child will most likely wake up crying, looking for comfort from you. Gently reassuring and calming your child is often good enough to get them back to sleep.
Night terrors, on the other hand, are sleep disruptions that are far more intense than nightmares and are often confusing to the child. While nightmares may be occasional occurrences in most children, night terrors tend to occur only in 3–6% of kids (6). Children who experience night terrors are often terrified and tend to scream or yell, creating a panicky situation for the parents in the middle of the night (5). A night terror episode can go on for a few minutes, and in some cases, your child may not recognize you or be willing to be comforted.
The common signs and symptoms of a night terror include
- Shouting or screaming in distress.
- Suddenly sitting upright in bed.
- Rapid breathing and increased heart rate.
- Profused sweating.
- Acting upset and scared.
- Thrashing around the bed.
Generally, your child will eventually calm down and go back to bed. It is normal for your child to not remember their night terror episode.
Night terrors occur due to an over-stimulation or arousal of your child’s central nervous system in their sleep. While nightmares usually happen during the REM stage of sleep, night terrors generally occur during the non-REM sleep stage. Nightmares are bad dreams, but night terrors are a sudden reaction to a bad dream that arises from fear when transitioning from one stage of sleep to the next.
Night terrors are more common when your child:
- Is stressed, over-tired, or ill.
- Has taken a new medication.
- Is not getting sufficient sleep.
- Has taken too much caffeine.
2. Sleep talking and sleepwalking
A very common type of sleep problem in children is sleep talking, which is sometimes accompanied by sleepwalking. Sleep talking is a phenomenon when your child talks in their sleep. Children might also mumble, sing, laugh, or shout, all while they are sound asleep (7).
Children are more likely to sleeptalk if they are stressed, worried, or excited about something. Sleeptalking doesn’t harm your child, and it is best to let them finish talking and go back to sleep. However, if you realize your child’s worry or fear is justified, it may be a good idea to speak with them the next day to alleviate their mental stress so that they can get a good night’s sleep.
Sleepwalking, also called somnambulance, is when your child walks around in their room or your house in their sleep even though their eyes are wide open. Children who are regular sleepwalkers can perform simple tasks, such as dodging furniture, with ease. Around one-third of children sleepwalk at some stage, and it commonly occurs in children between four to eight years of age (8).
Most children outgrow this habit, and sleepwalking can occur in healthy children without any physical or mental conditions. Sleepwalking occurs when your child is somewhere between sleep and being awake. If your child sleepwalks, it is important to ensure your home is safe and there is no way they can step outside your home. Since it does not have long-term effects, you can help your child get back to bed when you see them walk in their sleep.
However, if you feel that your child’s sleepwalking makes them tired or sleepy during the day or your child’s behavior during their sleepwalking is unusual, or their sleepwalking is accompanied by bed-wetting, snoring, or gasping of breath, it may be a good idea to visit your pediatrician.
Snoring is probably the most common sleep problem that children of all ages have. Children can snore at different ages, and this increases when they have a bad cold or allergies. The most common cause of snoring in children is obstructive sleep apnea. Although snoring is not a cause for concern, and most healthy children do not snore, here are some situations where you must consult with your pediatrician (9):
- If they are overly tired during the day after a night of snoring in their sleep
- If they are frequently irritated or angry
- If they find it difficult to wake up in the morning
- If they appear to daydream or zone out during the day
- If they are unable to pay attention or concentrate in their classes
- If they are excessively sleepy during the day
4. Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea, also called obstructive sleep apnea(OSA), is a very common cause of sleep problems in children. In this condition, there is an upper airway obstruction that tends to disrupt a child’s sleep and breathing despite increase breathing effort. It could be due to obesity, the small size of the upper airway, excessive tissue in the upper airway, or disorder in the pharyngeal muscles.
Snoring is a classic sign of OSA, but not all snorers suffer from this condition. Untreated sleep apnea can result in decreased attention, fatigue, decreased concentration, reduced academic performance, and other neurobehavioral problems. Adenotonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils) is the most common treatment for sleep apnea and resolves sleep problems in nearly 70% of normal-weight children (2).
5. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder found in children and adolescents. It is characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs that create an irresistible urge to move their legs. Although it occurs more commonly when a child is asleep, in some children, it is also observed when they are sitting idle or inactive for a long time.
The cause of RLS is different in each child, and in many cases, the cause remains unknown. Some common causes of RLS include anemia, kidney trouble, diabetes, and neurological conditions. RLS can be hereditary and runs in families.
Common symptoms of RLS include (10):
- Uncomfortable itching, pulling, or other indescribable feelings in the legs
- Constant urge to move their legs
- Delay in falling asleep each night
- Disruption of the sleep cycle
- Bedtime behavioral problems
- Tiredness or sleepiness during the day
Sleep forms a crucial aspect of your child’s daily routine. As your child grows older, their sleep requirements will reduce to 8–9 hours a day, similar to adults. However, some children suffer from sleep troubles and disorders that require you to consult their doctor. It is essential to diagnose the symptoms of sleep problems early on to make sure your child is mentally and physically healthy.
2. Common Sleep Disorders in Children; American Academy of Family Physicians
3. What Happens If Your Child Doesn’t Get Enough Sleep?; King of Sleep
4. Children and Sleep; Sleep Foundation
5. Nightmares and Other Sleep Problems in Children; Regents of the University of Michigan
6. Night Terrors; The Nemours Foundation
7. Sleeptalking in children and teenagers; Raising Children Network
8. Sleepwalking; The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
9. Signs Your Child’s Snoring Should Be Taken Seriously; Regents of the University of Michigan
10. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) in Children and Adolescents; Cleveland Clinic
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