To a weary parent, few things are more beautiful than a peacefully sleeping child, whether the snoozing angel is a swaddled newborn or a snoring teenager. Sleep (or the lack thereof) inspires more parental angst than nearly any other topic, and troubles don’t end when kids outgrow bottles and bedtime stories. According to a University of Houston study, 70 percent of kids under 10 have a sleep problem a few nights a week.
Regardless of age, all kids need enough rest – sleep deprivation in children is linked to academic trouble, behavior problems and even weight gain. Read on for age-specific advice to help your growing child sleep well, starting now.
Toddler/Preschool (0-5): Weighty Matters
Babies and tots who sleep enough have a head start on success both at school and on the scale. Sleep primes kids for learning and aids in memory retention, with benefits starting at birth. New research from University of Florida shows that newborns can learn in their sleep, and a study from University of Arizona reveals that babies who nap daily show advanced levels of learning. Researchers believe that adequate slow-wave sleep allows young brains to process and store information.
But brain boosting is just one of sleep’s many benefits. According to new research in the American Journal of Human Biology, sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity, especially in children.
“Young children who sleep less are more likely to be overweight later on,” says Eliana M. Perrin, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Sleep cycles affect hormones that control fat stores and appetite.”
Pave the way for a healthy, smart future by helping little ones get their daily Zzzzzs with an age-appropriate bedtime and a consistent bedtime routine. Babies, toddlers and young children need between 12 and 16 hours of sleep per day (more for newborns and young infants).
Elementary Years (6-10): Sleep Slip
With homework, extracurricular activities and friends competing for kids’ time, sleep often slips down the priority list during the grade school years. But kids still need a regular bedtime and a relaxing nightly routine. Sleep deprivation in young children brings on hyperactivity and inattentiveness, according to the American Professional Sleep Societies. Even small amounts of lost sleep hurts kids – losing just one hour of sleep brings on ADHD-like symptoms in young children.
To help elementary-age kids get the recommended 10 to 11 hours of nightly sleep, keep bedtime consistent within one hour, even on weekends. And watch out for caffeine-laden drinks; the Journal of Pediatrics reports that 75 percent of kids ages 5-12 drink caffeine daily, and that the more caffeine kids consume, the less they sleep.
Tweens/Teens (11-18): Too Wired, Too Tired
Parents may be relieved to know that teens and tweens with night-owl tendencies are completely normal – biological changes during late childhood push teens to stay up later at night and sleep in.
But there’s another reason many teens and tweens get significantly less sleep than the recommended nine hours per night. Millions of teens are permanently tuned in to smartphones, laptops, tablet computers and other devices that keep them awake around the clock. Steven Kadiev, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist recommends keeping all electronics (yes, even cell phones) out of kids’ bedrooms at night.
Wake your sleepy teen anytime he snoozes more than two hours past normal wake-up time; maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule helps promote healthy sleep cycles.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep and health journalist and mom of three. Her most recent book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, and Tirades.”
By Malia Jacobson
Photo by Jenn Brookover Photography