Just like a healthy diet and exercise is important for the development of children, so is adequate amount of sleep for overall health and well-being of children. In the early stages of life, human bodies and mind have the scope of rapid development that impacts not just physical growth, but the emotional growth as well. Children who get enough sleep tend to be more fit, active and alert and are less likely to suffer anxiety and other mental health challenges as they grow up.
How much sleep do children need?
Keeping the paramount importance for the health and development of children, it is quite natural for parents to be anxious about whether or not their children are getting enough sleep. In general, children need much more sleep as compared to adults. Existing medical research on sleep by numerous experts suggest that daily sleep needs of children vary as follows:
As is evident from these recommendations, sleep needs evolve as children get older. These ranges are for total sleep including naps and can be used as broad guidelines for healthy amount of sleep. Among the many challenges of parenting, sleep can be a pressure point. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that 25-30% of children today are not getting adequate sleep.
Children of today are consistently resisting going to bed, struggling to fall asleep, or getting up frequently at night. As they enter their teen years, they begin to push boundaries by staying up nights, using phones in bed, sleeping late and many such worrisome patterns that hamper their emotional, social and academic functioning. Inadequate sleep is known to have long term affects beyond academic performance. Chronic lack of sleep may lead to mental health issues and enhance the risk of substance abuse.
Screen time challenges
One of the key factors inducing sleep inadequacy today is increased screen time for children. The blue light emitted from electronic devices, delays the release of melatonin in the body. Melatonin, often referred to as the sleep hormone, is central to the sleep-wake cycle of an individual. Melatonin levels rise in the body from the evening and increase with darkness, thus regulating the circadian rhythm, or the 24-hour internal clock within our system.
However, consistent use of electronic devices reset the body’s internal clock and increase alertness. Growing children, for whom circadian rhythm shifts naturally, delayed release of melatonin leads to sleep deprivation. When children use devices before bedtime, they may wake up feeling groggy and poorly rested, even after 8 to 9 hours of sleep. Thus, difficult as it is to get kids to use electronic devices before bedtime, here is compelling reason to impose digital curfews to ensure that children get adequate sleep.
What then is the solution? The answer lies in sleep hygiene. This is nothing but inculcating habits that promote good sleep in children. The one thing that is vital to the success of such habits or hygiene is consistency. Here are some sleep strategies that can be used by parents struggling with sleep patterns of kids.
Set a bedtime
Needless to say, this is the first step of introducing sleep hygiene. The most important thing about bedtime is regularity. Bedtimes should ideally be the same for all days of the week. A different bedtime on weekends makes it difficult for children to maintain normal weekday schedules.
Bedtime rituals are all about slowing down. While each child may have a different routine, the idea is to have three to four activities such as a warm bath, putting on PJs, brushing of teeth and a bedtime story or song that provides children familiarity and comfort.
In this hyperconnected modern age, keeping children away from electronic devices is a primary challenge. However, as mentioned earlier, children are particularly vulnerable to effects of the blue light emitted from devices. Ideally, no electronic devices should be used before an hour of going to bed. It may be a good idea to implement the “family media plan” that has been developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can create a personalised media plan for your family in sync with your family values.
One of the important about sleep hygiene is comfort. It is important for the body and brain to cool down in preparation of sleep. A stuffy or uncomfortable bedroom may therefore impact sleep. To avoid this, it is recommended that the thermostat should be around 60-65 degrees depending upon the comfort of your child.
Light and noise
Bedrooms should be as dark as possible to induce the release of melatonin as explained earlier. Dim bedroom lights or a night lights are deemed fit to allay fears of child who may be afraid of the dark. Another important factor to consider is the noise level in the bedroom. Even mild disturbances can impact the quality of slumber in children. If there is a problem of street noise in the bedroom of your kid, it may be a good idea to consider noise blocking curtains.
It is a medically proven fact that soothing smells aid the release of melatonin during bedtime. Use of essential oils such as lavender or usage of a room diffuser may be ideal for providing the right atmosphere to ensure that your child experiences undisturbed rest.
While these are age old guidelines to help introduce regularity, it cannot be denied that anxiety levels are on the rise for not just adults but children as well. Mindfulness through yoga or meditation can help in decreasing stress hormones both in children and parents struggling with their sleep patterns.
Another way to deal with stress or anxiety is journaling. Encourage your child to put pen to paper and write about their day. Focussing on the positives or simply letting out negative developments may help in dealing with anxieties better.
However, if your child continues to experience disorders such as significant daytime drowsiness, abnormal breathing or severe snoring during sleep, experiencing anxiety or frequent bed wetting, it may be time to consider a medical opinion.