Make Sure Your Kids (and Teens) Are Getting Enough Sleep

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nNo matter what phase of parenting you are in, questions and concerns surrounding sleep are always at the forefront. When your little ones are babies, ask yourself if they’ll ever get into a regular sleep schedule. By the time they’re teenagers, they’ll sleep so late you might think they’ve become vampires! If you’re worried about nap times, the effects of blue light, COVID anxiety, and a million other thoughts about our kids, it’s no wonder we’re up half the night. Jocelyn H. Thomas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in the Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine and Neonatal Follow-up Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says anxiety in younger children leads to bedtime protests and difficulty falling asleep and sleeping at night can awakening for all children. Regardless of your kids’ ages, it’s important to have a consistent bedtime and sleep schedule, she says.

“Consistency and routine can help put children at ease because they know what to expect and know what’s coming next,” she says. Young children develop their imaginations around the age of three, which can lead to fears of monsters or other spooky objects in the dark. “Parents and young children can spray ‘monster spray’ (water in a bottle) under the bed before bed to keep monsters away at night. This gives the child a sense of control and can make bedtime fun instead of scary.”

Thomas says older children may ask repetitive questions before bed. Discussing concerns at this time delays bedtime and can also make the child feel even more anxious. “When this occurs, worrying earlier in the day can help,” she says. That’s 5-10 uninterrupted minutes that happen regularly every day when the parent can listen to the child’s concerns. Of course, any concerns that are particularly serious or occur throughout the day should be evaluated by a psychiatrist. With some reliable sleep information, parents and children can rest easy and finally turn a blind eye.

“Parents of children of all ages are all interested in making sure their child is meeting all of their basic health needs, sleep being one of them,” says Jennifer Gilman, a senior sleep consultant at goodnightsleepsite.com. “I want to reassure parents that there are several things you can do to help ensure a sound night’s sleep at each stage as your child grows from baby to teenager.” We have recommended sleep hours per age group (hours include naps through to age 5) as defined by the National Sleep Foundation, as well as expert tips on how to get your kids some much-needed zzz’s.

INFANT
Age range: 0 to 3 months
Hours of sleep required: 14 to 17 hours
Age range: 4 to 11 months
Hours of sleep required: 12 to 15 hours

At this stage, sleeping is all about finding a method (from “yelling” to “shhh techniques”) to teach your baby to sleep through the night. You will learn how to create an optimal sleeping environment that is quiet, dark and peaceful. And when all else fails, there are sleep experts you can turn to.

During infancy, Gilman’s number one tip is to create a healthy sleep foundation for your baby. “Babies need a lot of sleep to grow physically and cognitively,” she says. “By establishing consistent sleep routines for your baby at naps and bedtime, your baby will know when it’s time to sleep, and this will help make sleeping easier.” Even when life seems hectic, make those bedtimes (and waking hours) and it will reward you with some much-needed rest too.

SMALL CHILD
Age range: 1 to 2 years
Hours of sleep required: 11 to 14 hours

Gilman says the toddler years are about pushing boundaries and boundaries. This can make things difficult for parents, but it’s important to remember that 2- and 3-year-olds are meant to be testing the limits of their control over their world. “As a result, bedtime and naps can easily get out of hand with kids this age,” she says. “By setting clear boundaries—and most importantly, sticking to them—about bedtime and bedtime, sleep stays on track and helps your toddler become more sane.”

SCHOOLAGE
Age range: 3 to 5 years
Hours of sleep required: 10 to 13 hours
Age range: 6 to 12 years
Hours of sleep required: 9 to 11 hours

During elementary and middle school, children develop interests outside of school. This can lead to busy schedules and trouble sleeping. “In order for your school-age child to be successful in and out of school, they need to be rested,” says Gilman. “Prioritize an early, age-appropriate bedtime so they get adequate sleep every night.”

TEEN
Age range: 13 to 18
Hours of sleep required: 8 to 10 hours

With the teenage years comes independence, a social life, and of course, technology. “Set time limits on phones and other devices so your teen doesn’t text all night,” says Gilman. She also suggests creating a family docking station to store all electronics during sleep times.

And if you’re wondering why your child is suddenly a night owl, it’s not just because they’re watching Netflix. “Adolescents are naturally programmed to fall asleep later and wake up later in the morning,” says Thomas. “This occurs when the body clock or circadian rhythm shifts later during puberty.”

Thomas says that most teenagers are chronically sleep deprived. “Teenagers have many competing priorities, but prioritizing sleep is important. Teens should have a sleep schedule that is consistent across school days and weekends.” Thomas says it’s okay to sleep 1-2 hours later on weekends, but teens should avoid sleeping too late as it makes it difficult power to return to an earlier schedule on Monday morning. In addition, light from electronic devices such as cell phones, televisions, and computers can disrupt natural signals in our bodies that tell us to relax and fall asleep. “Use of electronic devices should be stopped about 60 minutes before bedtime, and electronic devices should ideally be kept outside of the bedroom,” she says.

If you and your family are still struggling, check out Virtua. Through a special partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Virtua (virtua.org/services/pediatrics/sleeplab) offers a pediatric sleep center to diagnose and treat children with insomnia to help everyone in your family get a better night’s sleep .

What is revenge bedtime delay?

You finally put the kids to bed and you’re tired too, but for some reason you feel the need to stay up. Whether it’s scrolling, watching TV, or just finishing life’s to-do list, there’s a name for this type of behavior that more and more parents are engaging in — revenge for procrastinating bedtime. For some, it’s a way to make up for time they didn’t get to themselves during the day. For others, it’s a way of gaining a sense of control. But the downside of this nightly “me time” is that you end up not being able to sleep. A better strategy is to build time into your day — even if it’s just a few minutes here and there — to do the things that make you feel good. Whether you’re going for a walk, calling a friend, listening to a podcast, or reading, you’ve earned some time. Then you can fall asleep at a reasonable hour and wake up refreshed.

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