How much sleep should your child be getting?

We’re all aware that getting good quality sleep every night is imperative to both good physical and mental health and keeps us functioning normally as human beings. It’s been proven many times that sleep deprivation is known strongly influences many physical aspects of our well being particularly our learning skills, memory, immunity levels, growth and weight control.

Poor sleep patterns and late nights over long periods can create real problems as babies and young children develop, and it is still important in their teenage years. As most parents of young children know, if a child is not getting enough sleep it can have an impact throughout the day. The problem is if your child isn’t getting enough sleep, how can you establish better sleep habits?

Paediatricians will tell you that perhaps the biggest thing you can do to help your child to establish a healthy sleep habit is to help them establish a regular routine. Creating a routine that you stick to strictly will help form good sleep habits for your child. Routines will help your child’s internal system know when to fall asleep and when to wake up, while moving these times erratically will hinder your child’s good sleep habits.

Children who don’t get the recommended amount of sleep based on their age can suffer problems ranging from being in a bad mood to a weakened

immune system or a lack of growth. It’s not just about the times, however. Establishing a routine including events that occur before bedtime will help you child relax before bed. A bath, a book or other quiet activities can help sooth your child before it is time to sleep.

Sleep needs change as children grow from infants to teenagers. Kids who don’t get enough sleep can perform worse in school and have mental and physical problems as well.

A new British study suggests that going to bed at different times every night appears to reduce children’s brainpower.

The research included 11,000 children in the United Kingdom whose family routines, including bedtimes, were recorded when they were aged 3, 5 and 7. At age 7, the children were given tests to assess their math and reading skills and spatial awareness.

Irregular bedtimes were most common at age 3, when around one in five children went to bed at varying times. By the age of 7, more than half the children went to bed regularly between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

At age 7, girls who had irregular bedtimes had lower scores on all three tests than girls with regular bedtimes. However this was not the case among 7-year-old boys, according to the study, which was published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Irregular bedtimes at age 5 were not associated with poorer brainpower in girls or boys at age 7. But irregular bedtimes at age 3 were associated with lower scores in reading, math and spatial awareness in both genders, suggesting that around the age of 3 could be a sensitive period for the development of mental skills.

Irregular bedtimes could disrupt natural body rhythms and cause sleep deprivation, harming children’s ability to acquire and retain information, the researchers said.

“Early child development has profound influences on health and well-being across the life course,” said study author Amanda Sacker, from the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London. “Therefore, reduced or disrupted sleep — especially if it occurs at key times in development — could have important impacts on health throughout life.”

Adjusting the sleep environment

Paediatricians and specialists in Children’s Sleep Disorders have recently put together simple guidelines to assist in their sleep hygiene.

  • The sleeping room should not be the same room used for playtime.
  • The room should be dark, but not pitch black.
  • Make sure the child gets sufficient daytime exercise
  • Establish a regular schedule
  • White noise, such as that provided by a fan may be helpful

Children can be difficult out for a number of reasons. However, when bad behaviour becomes a habit, teachers and parents often look to medicine to provide an answer. While testing for disorders like ADHD, depression and anxiety may effectively rule out some problems, the solution may often be an easier one to find. Many of the symptoms of psychological disorders are caused by lack of sleep. Paediatricians suggest that ensuring your child is getting adequate sleep may dramatically improve his or her behaviour – improve their attention span and memory, and generally improve their performance overall at school.

By John Redfern