For most of us, the late summer nights are a thing of the past and we are trying desperately to get our children back on a consistent sleep schedule. The summer months of late nights and no schedules can make back to school a difficult transition, especially for toddlers. However, good sleep hygiene and a proper bedtime is imperative for the health and development of your child. Sleep has been the focus of many pediatric studies, all revealing that poor sleep hygiene can lead to dangerous consequences. Today, I have teamed up with CHPA (Consumer Healthcare Products Association) Educational Foundation and KnowYourOTCs.org to discuss the dangers of sleep deprivation and what important steps you should take to ensure your child gets a good night sleep.
Decreased Immunity. Sleep is extremely important to maintaining good health and strong immunity. When our children are run down and tired, they become more vulnerable to becoming sick. While we sleep, our body recharges and becomes stronger. As we head into a new school year, children become exposed to new germs. This exposure leads to a surge of illness during the early months of school. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, changed its recommendations for how much sleep children should get. Below are the new recommendations based upon different ages:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours
Decreased Performance at School. A study published in Pediatrics found that children with irregular bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties. According to Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, not only does poor sleep lead to worse behavior, a child with behavior challenges may have a difficult time sleeping. In addition to the cycle of behavioral challenges and lack of sleep, Insufficient sleep in children can also lead to weight issues, hypertension, diabetes, depression and decreased performance at school. The bottom line is that consistent sleep routines lead to positive outcomes such as improved attention, better behavior, improved emotional regulation and overall good health.
Decreased Ability to Cope with Stress. Lack of sleep does not only affect a child’s mood but also affects their concentration and the ability to cope with stress. Whether your child is a toddler or school ages, sleep deprivation can lead to your child becoming overly emotional, frequent temper tantrums, and difficulty with impulse control.
Tips if Your Child has Trouble Falling Asleep
Decrease Screen Time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screens be turned off 30 minutes to 1-2 hours before bedtime. Further, small screens (like smart phones) are more disruptive to sleep than TV. The light from the devices can impede natural hormones that help us fall asleep. Interruptions from these devices can also break apart our sleep. Do not sleep with your cell phone and do not let your children either.
Follow Their Cues. Did you know that kids under the age of 12, or before puberty, get tired naturally around 8pm, according to Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Mama Doc? Around 8pm, there is a natural rise in a child’s melatonin level. Dr. Swanson recommends parents seize that opportunity to transition kids to bed. Make sure to look for cues like yawning, rubbing eyes, and moodiness. Try and set bedtime within 30 minutes of these drowsiness cues.
Bedtime Routine. Bedtime Routine is imperative to creating good sleep hygiene. It is important that your child starts to wind down and allows their mind to get ready for sleep. Having the same routine every night prepares your child for bedtime. Many parents don’t realize that a late bedtime can actually result in difficulty falling asleep and resistance to the bedtime routine. For most children, an appropriate bedtime is between 730pm – 8pm.
Sometimes kids have trouble falling asleep. If you notice it is happening more regularly, keeping a sleep diary can help you uncover the causes of a child’s sleep problems. Follow this link to the KnowYourOTCs website for more details on starting a sleep diary, especially if you are planning to talk to your child’s doctor about it.
Important Reminder. Never give your child an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to make them sleepy. Always read the label before giving your child an OTC medicine. OTC cold and flu medicines may contain diphenhydramine, which can cause drowsiness. It is important to only treat your child with the right OTC medicine for the symptoms they are presenting, not to aid in sleep. Please consult a physician before giving your child an OTC medicine.