Kids - The Importance of Sleep

Sep 1, 2021

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy.

If you are or have been a parent of young kids, you just know how important sleep is for your children. This is a tough time of year as the long summer days of swimming, bonfires and fun have to transition into back to work, back to school and back to a schedule. Sleep is one of the pillars for a child's mental and physical health. It has an instrumental role in the development of a young person's brain. It also has been linked to happiness, alertness, cognitive performance and attention span. Teachers and daycare workers will attest to this. Physically, sleep is important for growth. Studies on napping link sleep to motor skill development, attention and memory development in toddlers. Sleep experts believe a child's poor sleep during early childhood may even increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension and obesity decades later.

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates sleep problems affect 25 -50% of children and approximately 40% of teenagers. A child who is short on sleep can be expected to act grumpy or even hyperactive, referred to as "overtired". These behaviors can resemble the actions of a child who has ADHD. Lack of sleep will often first affect results at school and then day to day activities as well.

The first stage to helping your kids sleep better is determining exactly how much sleep they require. Sleep needs change as your child grows. The National Sleep Foundation had one of the simplest charts available:

Age Range Recommended Hours of Sleep

Newborn 0-3 months old 14-17 hours

Infant 4-11 months old 12-15 hours

Toddler 1-2 years old 11-14 hours

Preschool 3-5 years old 10-13 hours

School-age 6-13 years old 9-11 hours

With a range of 2 to 3 hours of required sleep, parents have to determine their child's exact sleep by monitoring their day-to-day performance. Young toddlers require up to two naps per day for sleep supplementation. Toddler sleep issues are usually related to separation anxiety from the parent and a fear of missing out on fun activities. To cut down on their stalling, give them control of bedtime choices, such as brushing or flossing first, choice of a story or picking out pajamas. School age kids live busy lives. Allow for a wind down period before bed, which is screen free. Have them do homework and other activities outside the bedroom, as its better to keep bedrooms strictly for sleep. Teen sleep times can be shorted due to this ager group having a later circadian rhythm, which can overlap school mornings. Teens often do as their parents, so ensure you are setting a good example with positive sleep hygiene and consistency.

Again successful sleep is all about consistency. Consistent sleep and wake times are a must. The routine leading up to bed should also be consistent. Turn off computers and any other light emitting screens. Have a bath and pick out the pajamas. Brush their teeth and put on pajamas; read a book or play a quiet audio book. Ensure the bedrooms are screen free or at least ensure the bed area has no screens. Even though kids usually like to snuggle up to big blankets in bed, keep the thermostat at a cooler temperature, simply because all humans sleep better when its cooler. Use black out blinds or room darkening curtains to block out light. Use a dim nightlight if your child is scared of the dark. Keep the bedroom quiet. Avoid late night snacks if possible and reduce sugar and eliminate caffeine from any snack or beverage if a snack is required.

Put your children to bed when they are sleepy, not after they fall asleep. It is difficult, but parents need to recognize the special level of hyper that means your toddler is too tired, so you can put them to bed before things into a disaster. Late night emotions and meltdowns will not help sleep patterns. If pre-school children walk to your bed at night, walk them back to their bed. Remember you are trying to break the poor routines and encourage the healthy ones. From experience, parents also sleep a lot better when there are no kids in the bed.

Morning wake times and daily schedules are important, too. While its temping to have weekend sleep ins this does not promote consistency. Too many extracurricular activities can have a negative effect on sleep time. If you are practicing healthy sleep habits with your kids and they are still having trouble sleeping, a doctor's visit might find a solution if a sleep condition is the cause. Some of the most common sleep disorders in children are night terrors and nightmares, sleep apnea, sleep talking and sleepwalking, snoring, and restless leg syndrome. Use parent-teacher interviews to ask your child's teacher for updates on their attention levels. Lack of concentration, hyperactivity and learning problems may signal they are not getting proper sleep. Keep track of and record your child's sleep issues and symptoms. Showing a sleep diary to your child's doctor might be very helpful.

Establishing good sleep hygiene habits and eliminating other barriers to proper sleep is the first line of defense in treating many of these conditions. Finding consistency will help create good sleep patterns. If you have other questions to improve sleep for you or your family, your clinic pharmacist can help.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.


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