Helping your child sleep is one of the most important things you can do to support their health. Healthy sleep is essential for development, performance at school, behavior, moods, and physical and mental health. When your child gets enough sleep, they avoid increasing their risk for behavioral problems, difficulty concentrating at school, and even more serious problems including depression, anxiety, suicide, obesity, and chronic health problems.
These five facts explain important things parents need to know about sleep, from ever-changing sleep needs to sleep disorders and the importance of avoiding screen time before bed.
- Good sleep habits must be taught. Sleep comes naturally, but good sleep habits may not just happen on their own. Establishing a healthy sleep routine is on you as a parent, and you can help your child create good sleep habits for life. You can do this by establishing consistent bedtimes, a regular bedtime routine, and healthy sleep hygiene, such as avoiding screen time before bed and creating a dark, cool, and calm sleep environment for your child.
- Sleep needs are different at each age. Teaching your child healthy sleep isn't a one-time task, as your child has different needs at every age. Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day, much of it during the day -- and for short stretches at a time. School age children have less time in the REM stage of sleep, so they need to make the most of the deep sleep they get at night. By the preteen years, children are sleeping about 11 hours -- but it's all at night, so it's essential that kids this age have a schedule that allows plenty of time for sleeping. When teens hit puberty, they experience a circadian rhythm shift that pushes their bedtime back. This shift can make them feel like they have insomnia, and make it difficult to squeeze in enough sleep before it's time to go to school.
- Children can suffer from sleep disorders. Just like adults, children can suffer from sleep disorders. Parasomnias, including night terrors, sleepwalking, wetting the bed, and talking while sleeping are more common among children than adults. Children can suffer from dyssomnias as well, which include trouble getting to and staying asleep, particularly behavioral insomnia. Parents of young children may be especially familiar with behavioral insomnia, which can manifest as stalling and making excuses for not going to sleep. Children can also suffer from sleep apnea, reflux, nightmares, and narcolepsy.
- Screen time can interfere with healthy sleep. At any age, screen time can cause issues with sleep, especially when it occurs just before bed. Screens emit bright artificial light. This light can confuse your child's brain, telling it that it's daytime (time to be awake), even if it's just about time to go to bed. Set limits with screen time, avoiding screens for at least an hour before bedtime and never in bed.
- Most teens are chronically short on sleep. Parents often focus intensely on sleep during the infant and preschool years, letting older children manage their own sleep. But teens need just as much help as younger children in establishing and maintaining good sleep habits. In fact, nearly 90 percent of high school students don't get enough sleep on school nights. A lack of sleep in teens can result in poor grades, obesity, drowsy driving, and moodiness. Teens with a lack of sleep are at a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide. It's important that you continue to focus on healthy sleep habits in school age children and through the teen years.
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck Sleep. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.