No one told me being a parent would come with so much advice. There seems to be input on everything — from what material my kids’ toys should be to what they should eat to the length of their shoelaces!
While much of this advice can be well intentioned — even helpful — too much outside input can make it easy to forget the things that matter most for your child’s health. And one of the most important is their sleep schedule.
Kids are busy learning and playing, and sleep is usually last on their list of things they want to do. They can also be prone to the same stresses and anxieties that we face as adults, which can cause them to stay up late thinking about certain circumstances or fighting off the adrenaline of stress.
So while sleep is vital to their mental and physical health, it isn’t always the easiest feat to achieve.
Sleep is essential to a child’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. And depending on the age of a child, the amount of sleep they require can shift.
Why Is Sleep Important?
If you’re trying to set your child up for success, sleep is the place to start.
A lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your child’s physical health, social skills, learning abilities, and more.
Studies have shown that getting enough sleep can improve nearly every function in your child’s body, including their attention span, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health.
According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, one of the best predictors of failing in school for children of any age is simply fatigue. Students who had B’s or better had reportedly gotten 17-33 more minutes of sleep on school nights. Every little bit counts!
A lack of sleep can show up in your child’s behavior in more ways than one. Less sleep means more irritability, mood swings, aggression, hyperactivity, and social withdrawal. And this doesn’t stop after the “terrible twos” — it affects our behavior our entire lives!
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
To help your child get the right amount of sleep, you’ll first want to know how much sleep is enough for your kids.
Typically, all children need to get more than the 8 hours we adults try to sneak in. Depending on your child’s age, they could need anywhere from 8-16 hours of sleep a night.
- Under 1 year old: 12-16 hours
- 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
- 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours
- 6-12 years old: 9-10 hours
- Teens 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours
Your child’s body uses sleep to recharge and regulate things like blood sugar and metabolism. Studies have also shown that kids and adults alike who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk of things like obesity, heart disease, and metabolic disorders.
What Causes a Lack of Sleep?
The next step in helping your child get a restful night’s sleep is knowing what’s causing them to lose it in the first place.
Sleep issues for children are usually due to behavioral or physical issues. Behavioral issues can include things like day-to-day stress, anxiety, or mood disorders.
Physical issues could be breathing issues like allergies, asthma or sleep apnea.
There are also cultural and social aspects that can impact a child’s sleep patterns. Too much stimulation through screen time is a big cause for lack of sleep in children. Video games and other entertainment can also cause sleep issues due to sheer adrenaline that keeps your child awake.
How to Encourage a Restful Night’s Sleep
For every possible cause for your child’s lack of sleep, there are solutions. Work on these simple habits to help ensure your child gets a full amount of quality sleep each night.
Tips to Help Toddlers Go to Sleep
1. Stick to One Bedtime Ritual
Toddlers thrive in routine. It helps them feel safe and prepared to know what’s coming next each day.
In order to ensure your toddler’s stress levels stay low (and so they’re less likely to argue with your process), do your best to follow the same bedtime ritual every night.
A good guide for this is to follow the 3 B’s: brush, book and bed. These 3 steps are not only easy for you to remember and your toddler to understand, but each of the 3 B’s provide a positive effect on their growth.
Brushing every night helps their overall oral health, which saves you money on future expenses like filling cavities — and it saves them from pain and other health issues.
Reading a book every night helps them with early literacy. They learn how to pronounce words, what certain words and phrases look like on the page, and emotional tone.
By the time you reach the third B, bed, they’ll have clean teeth and an interesting story to help give them good dreams.
2. Make Sure the Room Is Comfy and Quiet
A comfortable room can be a little different for everyone. Some toddlers may prefer pitch black, while others would like to have a night light around. Some children might prefer an ice-cold room with a warm blanket, while others prefer a warm room with a thin blanket.
Get to know your child’s preferences. Do they want the door open, or closed? Perhaps a little light or a stuffed animal for comfort? Do they like to be propped up or lying flat?
Ensuring your child is comfortable off the bat can save you a couple trips to their room to help ease them to sleep.
3. Find a New Spot for Time Out
If you use time out, break time, or thinking time in your discipline routine, you might want to rethink sending your toddler to their room.
This can make being closed in their room feel like a punishment instead of having it be a place of comfort and rejuvenation when it’s time to nap or go to bed.
Tips to Help Elementary School Children Go to Sleep
1. Limit Screen Time
Action-packed video games and movies can get your child’s fight-or-flight response going, which is the last state of mind you want them to be in before bed.
Plus, the glow from a screen can lower their brain’s ability to know when it’s time for bed by delaying the release of hormones that make them sleepy. This delay can make for a long road to falling asleep.
2. Adjust Their Bed time
While toddlers and younger children are naturally “early to bed, early to rise” types, as they grow older, their sleep preferences tend to adjust. That’s why it makes sense to adjust your child’s bed time as they grow.
If it’s been impossible to get your kid to sleep by the 8:30 pm bedtime they used to have, try pushing it back to 9:00 or 9:30. Just make sure that they don’t have to be up earlier than before, cutting into their overall sleep time!
Adjust their bedtime incrementally by pushing it back just about 5-10 minutes each night, allowing them to get used to their new sleep schedule.
3. Encourage Activity
Nowadays, there are plenty of activities for children that involve sitting. But not staying active can cause sleep cycle issues for children of every age.
Bonus points if you find activities to do outside in the morning sun, as this will help them regulate their circadian rhythms and battle the struggles things like screen time cause.
Sleep is absolutely crucial to your child’s happiness and success. By identifying what might cause a lack of sleep while helping them build habits that enable them to have a steady sleep cycle, you’re taking one of the most important steps toward advocating for your child’s wellbeing.
Encouraging things like healthy eating and daily activity alone can help nudge your child in the right direction.
Exercise isn’t just important for sleep habits. It helps improve mood, learning abilities, and presents other scary health issues.