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Sleep and Development: The Importance of a Good Night’s Rest


Sleep is a valuable thing. More than anyone else, parents especially know this to be true- nothing sets you up for a day of parenting wins like a full 8 hours! Additionally, we can observe differences in our children’s behavior when they get the right amount of sleep. Well-rested kiddos tend to be happier, healthier, kinder, and more focused. 


Did you also know that proper sleep is one of the most crucial tenants of proper development? Not only do we sleep to rest our minds and bodies, but getting quality sleep and getting enough sleep every night aids in long-term memory, focus, and other crucial cognitive functions. In this blog, we’ll dive into the function of sleep, how much sleep kids really need, and how you, as a parent, can help your children get the sleep they need!

Effects of Poor Sleep 

Clinical psychologists have studied sleep for years, and we still don’t fully understand exactly how and why sleep helps the body. However, we have observed clear differences between the cognitive functions of individuals who get enough sleep and those who don’t. Studies have shown that children who don’t get enough sleep suffer from a plethora of long-term mental effects, such as:

  • Impulsivity and aggression

  • Stress

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Impaired decision making

  • Poor memory


Sleep can also impact physical functions of our body. A lot of chronic health conditions in adults have been linked to a continuous lack of poor sleep, such as weakened immune systems, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease. For children, the physical effects of poor sleep do not manifest as severely as they do in adults; however, poor sleep throughout childhood can increase the likelihood of these issues later on in their lives. 


The need for sleep is crucial, especially for children. Children’s bodies and brains develop at an extremely rapid rate that exponentially slows down as they enter adolescence, their teen years, and eventually adulthood. Therefore, good sleep is crucial for the holistic development of your children!


How Much Sleep Do My Kids Need?

As children grow, their needs for sleep will change. Typically, the amount of sleep a child needs decreases as they age into adulthood. The average amount of sleep a child needs depending on their age is as follows: 


AGE GROUP

AMOUNT OF SLEEP

(hours/day)

Infants

12-16

Toddlers

11-14

3-5 years

10-13

6-12 years

9-12 

13-18 years

8-10


It is worth noting that this amount of sleep does not necessarily have to be met in one continuous sitting. In fact, children typically benefit from one or more short naps during the day.


Depending on genetic, environmental, and demographic factors, your child’s sleep needs might fall slightly outside of the ranges given in this table. If you have concerns about how much sleep your child gets- whether it seems like too much or too little- contact your provider! Your pediatric provider will work with you to determine whether your child is sleeping too much, too little, or just the right amount. 

Help Your Kids Sleep Well

Knowing the benefits of sleep is great and all, but we know what you’re probably thinking– how can I get my kids to sleep well? From conjuring up endless distractions to pleading for more screen time, we know that half of the battle is convincing your kids they need to sleep in the first place!


That’s why we’ve compiled a few practical tips to help regulate your child’s sleep schedule. Although none of these are sure-fire methods to make sure your child gets a full night’s rest, they can reduce the bedtime battle and help them fall asleep faster and for longer!


Establish a Bedtime Routine

Each of our bodies has its own circadian rhythm, which is a cycle of approximately 24 hours that our physical, emotional, and mental processes operate on. Children lack the same emotional regulation and self-control that adults do- therefore, it’s up to you as the parents to set a bedtime routine and help your children stick to it! 


Limit Screen Time

One way to help your child wind down before bed is to reduce screen time. The blue light emitted from our devices is known to limit the production of melatonin, the hormone that lets our body know it’s time to rest. This makes it harder for us to fall asleep in the first place. 


Additionally, screen time can cause emotional dysregulation in children before bed time, which also works to prevent them from falling asleep. If a child is watching a movie or video with bright colors and loud sounds right before bed, this can get them riled-up and excited before bed, which prevents them from falling asleep. 


We recommend limiting daily screen time to one hour or less in children 5 and under. For older children and teenagers, their daily screen time might look a little different; no matter their screen time limitations, we recommend stopping the use of screens with children at least one hour before bedtime. This allows their nervous system time to readjust and calm down before they go to sleep! 


Make Sure They Get Plenty of Exercise

One of the reasons your kids might not be sleeping well is that they simply aren’t tired at bedtime! If your child is school-age, there’s a strong chance they are spending most of the day sitting down, aside from recess and P.E. class. Encourage your children to take part in activities that allow them to expend some of their pent-up energy, such as:

  • Jumping rope

  • Playing outside with siblings or friends

  • Dancing

  • Sports

  • Bike-riding

Bonus points if you are able to participate in these activities with them! Humans are highly social creatures and often learn best from modeling, which involves watching other people take part in an activity. If your children see you having fun with exercise, they are more likely to also think it’s fun!


It’s important to note that children should get exercise earlier in the day and NOT right before bedtime. Exercising increases the heart rate, raises body temperatures, and kickstarts the body’s nervous system, all of which can inhibit a child from falling asleep.


Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Perhaps the most important tip on this list is to make sure you practice good sleep hygiene with your kids. Sleep hygiene involves practices that relax the mind and body so that one can fall asleep quickly and easily. Some easy sleep hygiene practices to try implementing with your children include:

  • High-quality mattress: Your child simply will not sleep well if they are not comfortable! A comfortable mattress is an investment into your children’s health that will benefit them for years to come. If your child’s mattress is too firm, they might report feeling uncomfortable as they try to sleep; however, if your child’s mattress is too soft, their growing bodies might not have the support they need! Consider choosing a mattress of medium firmness to accommodate their physical and emotional needs equally.

  • A cool room: Studies show that sleeping in a cool room allows your body to enter REM sleep more quickly and stay there longer. The ideal room temperature for sleep is approximately 69ºF for infants and 65-67ºF for anyone older. You can also help your child stay cool with breathable bed linens and a cooling mattress!

  • Relaxation: Have your child do something relaxing before bed! This sort of activity will differ depending on how old your child is. For younger children, this could look like spending time together, a warm bath, or you reading them a bedtime story. For older children in teens, this might be a great time for them to listen to music, tell you about their day, write in a journal, or even meditate/pray. 

  • Blackout curtains: While large windows are great for giving children exposure to natural light throughout the day, some children might have trouble falling asleep if an excess amount of light comes in through the window at night. Blackout curtains work to block up to 99% of light from windows, allowing your child to sleep peacefully. 


We know that, as parents, you want to do everything in your power to watch your children grow up happy, healthy, and strong. With sleep being such a crucial element of healthy physical and mental development, it’s important to do everything you can to make sure your children are sleeping enough and sleeping well. Your children’s sleep habits now can influence their sleep habits for years to come- therefore, there is no better time than the present to start teaching them the importance of sleep. 


If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s sleeping habits, always talk to your pediatric provider! In the meantime, we hope these tips serve as a launching-off point for you as you teach your child the importance of sleep and healthy sleep habits. Together with your pediatrician, you and your child can find habits and rhythms that allow them to stay healthy and well-rested!


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