Proper sleep patterns are extremely important for growing kids, even though most of them don’t understand the merits of tucking in. Sleep is one of the most important things children need for their overall health, and inconsistent sleep habits can contribute to sleep problems later in life.
Here’s what you should know about your child’s sleep, about why they need so much rest, and what you can do to make your kiddo’s sleep schedule a little easier.
What Happens When the Body Sleeps?
A good night’s sleep is a lot more than just rest. The body heavily depends on sleep to maintain itself, and many of our body’s most important processes happen while we’re in a sleep state.
Children have a lot of growing, learning, and development to do, and the reality is that they can only reach their full potential if they’re getting enough sleep.
Sleep Compiles Memory and Helps with Learning
Learning is the process of remembering and applying knowledge, and the human brain compiles and stores knowledge best while in a sleep state.
Children spend most of their lives learning, and it goes without saying that learning and memory are two of the most important parts of childhood. If your child doesn’t regularly get an adequate amount of sleep, they may have a hard time at school. A lack of sleep can significantly affect your child’s ability to learn at a healthy pace and can contribute to developmental delays.
Sleep Helps Regulate Energy
If you’ve ever slept poorly and had an important task to do at work the next day, you’re all too familiar with how it feels to try to function when you weren’t able to get adequate rest.
Sleep deprivation can make everything feel more difficult. Your body needs rest to recharge and regulate energy production, and sleep can help you stay more alert, attuned, and focused throughout the day. Without enough total sleep, young children may struggle with energy, which may manifest as trouble paying attention in school, difficulties getting up and dressed in the morning, and general irritability.
Sleep Helps the Body Repair and Grow
Your body doesn’t need to use its energy to keep you mobile and actively functioning while you’re asleep. You aren’t eating, digesting, using the bathroom, or moving around, which means your body can instead devote its energy to repairing and growing tissue, like muscles and bones.
Children have a lot of growing to do, and proper sleep allows their small bodies to catch up with, and keep up with, the growth process. The next time your little one protests sleep, ask them if they’d like to be tall and strong — chances are that the answer will be yes, and you can use this to help guide them into bed.
Keeping a height chart in your home that you use once each season can also help show your child how they’re growing and prove that sleeping like a champion is paying off.
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need By Age?
All of your child’s needs will change throughout the stages of their growth and development. You couldn’t expect a teenager to feel full on a toddler-sized meal, and an infant won’t be able to get nearly as much exercise as a five-year-old. Sleep is no different.
According to general guidelines, the recommended amount of sleep changes with age:
- Newborn to 3 months old: 14 to 17 hours total daily
- Babies 4 months to 1 year old: 12 to 16 hours daily
- Toddlers 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours daily
- Children 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours daily
- Children and teens 6 to 13 years old: 9 to 12 consecutive hours
The goal is to ensure your child gets at least the minimum amount of sleep, and it’s okay if your child pushes towards the maximum amount. Children might have an increased need for sleep when experiencing a growth spurt or a rapid stage of growth and development. Babies are almost always in a growth spurt, so their need for sleep is much greater than most.
If your child regularly sleeps too little, it can harm their overall health. Children who don’t get enough sleep may have difficulty learning or concentrating. They can also struggle from weak immune systems or muscle soreness.
Most children won’t feel the need to sleep too much. Frequent daytime sleepiness may indicate an underlying illness or a nutritional issue, like a vitamin B deficiency or anemia, that often leaves them feeling tired. It’s important to address oversleeping with your child’s pediatrician if it doesn’t have an apparent cause (like recovering from a cold) and happens often.
Do Naps Count as Sleep?
Something happens between childhood and adulthood that changes most people’s attitudes toward naps. Teenagers and adults often love a great nap. Children might be preoccupied with something they enjoy or experience a fear of missing out on something fun when nap time rolls around. You shouldn’t let your youngsters skip daytime naps, even if they claim they aren’t tired.
Naps are very important for children, especially younger children. Most children can, and should, regularly nap until they turn five years old, and some children may even benefit from regular naps until they turn seven years old.
Children are able to sustain their energy throughout the day by the time they enter kindergarten, and many early childhood teachers will give children the option to nap or enjoy some “quiet time” in the middle of the day. Preschoolers are almost always encouraged to nap.
How To Support Healthy Sleep Habits for Your Kids
Your kids are still learning how to prioritize their health and well-being. Setting a good example, explaining why healthy habits matter, and creating a routine are important parts of helping your kids get more sleep.
Have a Daily Routine
Everyone thrives on routine. Your daily routine helps you switch yourself through the modes of your life. If your child’s life is unpredictable, they won’t be accustomed to getting up at the same time, eating at roughly the same times, and going to bed at the same time every night. Unpredictability can lead to trouble falling asleep or waking up in the morning.
Consider making a family calendar or schedule to illustrate your child’s day. Follow the daily plan each day until you’ve ironed out your routine, then continue to use your family schedule to prepare your children for changes in routine, like summers off of school or a family trip.
Take time to make nutrition a routine as well, like a daily multivitamin, daily probiotic, or a nightly sleep supplement.
Feed Your Family a Balanced Diet
Every system in the human body is connected, and they all work together to support each other. If any of these systems aren’t fueled appropriately, you’ll start to notice the effects.
Make sure your child is meeting their daily recommended value of essential vitamins and minerals. Swap out empty carbohydrate foods (like potato chips and toaster pastries) for whole grain carbohydrates and lean proteins, and lean into healthy fats like avocado and nuts or seeds as opposed to processed meats.
Don’t Allow Children to Consume Caffeine
Small amounts of caffeine, like naturally occurring caffeine, are unlikely to be harmful to children. If your child does consume some amount of caffeine, make sure it’s early enough in the day so that it can be processed out of the body before bed.
Some drinks that appear to be sports drinks, sparkling juice, or novelty soda are actually energy drinks. It can be easy for them to slip right past your radar if your child asks for one of them from the cooler at the grocery store checkout line. Check the caffeine content of any unfamiliar drink, as it could be hiding a massive amount of caffeine.
Create the Perfect Sleep Environment
Would you be able to go to sleep if all the fun things you enjoy doing were just a few steps away from where you lay your head? Children (and many adults) will often delay sleep if they have easy access to something fun to do.
You might be in the habit of lying down and scrolling through your phone longer than you intended. Kids may get up and grab a toy, comic book, or tablet to delay bedtime a little longer, so it’s best to put toys away before bedtime and take screens out of your child’s room to charge elsewhere.
The perfect sleep environment is dark, quiet, comfortable, and a little on the cooler side. Make sure your child’s bedding is weather appropriate. Ask your child if they experience any sensory discomfort from their bedding. Children’s bedding tends to be made with novelty designs in mind rather than comfort. Cotton, microfiber, and jersey tend to be more comfy than polyester quilts emblazoned with cartoon characters.
Use a nightlight if your child is a little (or a lot) iffy about the dark, but try to avoid leaving lights on in your kiddo’s room. Bright lights can disrupt sleep and confuse the cues that their circadian rhythm uses to know when it’s time for bed.
Your child may be distracted by the noise of older kids or adults moving around the house at night. White noise machines, fans, and ambient sleep music can help to mask the noises of people still awake past your child’s bedtime.
Creating a Bedtime Routine for Your Kids
As a parent, you probably have a lot of memories of experiencing silent frustration when it’s bedtime, and your children don’t seem to understand how important sleep is. The constant cries of “Five more minutes, please!” can quickly add up to an hour, and you don’t want your youngsters to lose that precious hour of sleep. Creating a routine can help.
All people, especially children, benefit from a functional routine — and it doesn’t need to be a complicated one! All it takes is a consistent bedtime routine that progressively winds down to help your child ease into bedtime.
Try reducing their activity options after dinner. Things like watching TV or playing games can be too stimulating as bedtime approaches, so ending screen time before dinner can help ease the transition. Reading, coloring, journaling, or even acts of self-care like yoga and meditation can be excellent relaxation transition activities for kids.
Run your children through the list of things they need to do before they go to bed. If they take a bath, brush their teeth, help pick out their outfit for the next day, decide what they want for breakfast the next morning, take a natural sleep aid when appropriate, and listen to a bedtime story or audiobook at night, their body and mind will prepare for sleep a little more with each step.
Kids need a consistent bedtime. Your children don’t need to be in bed at exactly 9 p.m. every night, but you should try to keep it as close to the same time as reasonably possible. Calling it a night at 9:20 p.m. won’t significantly disrupt their sleep-wake schedule, but pushing bedtime till 10 p.m. likely will. Use your best judgment as a parent and consider when your children will need to wake up.
The Wrap-Up on Bedtime
Sleep is a very important part of your child’s daily routine, even when they insist that they’re not tired. Creating consistent routines that prioritize routines can help your child get better sleep. Sleep is vital for your child’s health.
Children who get enough rest are generally healthier than children who don’t. You want the best for your children, and tucking them in at the same time every night can help them learn, grow, and thrive.