Sometimes it can be hard to convince our children that sleep is a beautiful thing. (Come on, kids!) Sleep is very important for the healthy development of children, however—not to mention the sanity of everyone they live with.
To understand children’s sleep needs better, I spoke to pediatric sleep consultant Tracie Kesatie. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: We all know that sleep plays a critical role in our overall health and well-being. Why is good sleep especially important for children?
Tracie Kesatie: One of the many incredible things that happen while we sleep is that our brain processes and consolidates information. For children who are learning language skills, motor skills, and social skills at a rapid pace, getting adequate sleep is especially important.
Sleep supports a healthy and strong immune system, which is even more important for school-aged children. Too little sleep will lead to a less-than-stellar immune system and leave a child more susceptible to viruses and illnesses.
The Epoch Times: How does a child’s sleep needs change throughout the different stages of his or her growth?
Ms. Kesatie: Newborns 0-3 months of age sleep anywhere from 14-17 hours during a 24-hour period; however, they typically can only stay awake for short periods of time (1-3 hours) between sleeping.
At around 6-8 weeks of age, I recommend creating a simple bedtime routine, which is a series of soothing, predictable activities that you do in the same order every night before bed. For example, a warm bath, infant massage, nurse or bottle and then a bedtime book. You also want to support them falling asleep at nighttime by keeping the environment quiet, relaxing, and lights dimmed.
Babies 4-12 months of age need between 12-16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Sleep associations (walking, holding, rocking, and feeding to sleep) can be incredibly helpful during the first couple of months of life, but as little ones get older these associations can actually become problematic. During this period is when I recommend that my clients practice allowing their baby to fall asleep independently vs. placing their baby in the crib when they’re already asleep. Creating these healthy sleep habits early can be incredibly helpful.
Toddlers from 1-2 years need 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Toddlers tend to be very busy and they don’t always want to slow down or stop what they are doing, especially to go to sleep. Allowing your toddler to have ample wind-down time prior to nap time and bedtime can be essential. Furthermore, having a longer, more soothing bedtime routine can also help transition your busy little one from awake time to sleep time.
Preschoolers 3-5 years need 10-13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. At this age, children love to test boundaries and limits, so having clear, firm rules when it comes to sleep, particularly bedtime, is incredibly helpful.
School-aged children 6-12 years of age need 9-12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. At this age, children should already have an established bedtime routine in place. The child’s room should be dark, cool, and quiet and without a TV, computer, or tablet. You also want to watch for dietary habits, like consuming food or beverages with caffeine or lots of sugar, which can interrupt sleep.
The Epoch Times: What are some common mistakes parents make regarding bedtime routines for young children?
Ms. Kesatie: One of the most common mistakes that parents make with bedtime routines is not staying consistent. Children thrive with predictability and routine, and the more consistent you are with their bedtime routine, the better.
The Epoch Times: What about children who just don’t want to go to sleep? When parents are engaged in a nightly struggle with their children around bedtime, what’s the first thing you suggest they do to begin to reverse course?
Ms. Kesatie: The first thing I suggest in these situations is to stop the negotiations. The more you react, engage, and talk, the longer it will take your child to settle down to sleep.
The Epoch Times: What can parents do to support the changing sleep needs of adolescents and teens?
Ms. Kesatie: Adolescents need around 8-10 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. However, they are more likely to sleep less if they have screens and electronics in their bedroom. The blue light emitted from devices such as TVs, tablets, phones, computers, etc. can actually impede the production of melatonin, thereby making it more difficult to fall asleep.
A lot of screen time also tends to lead to later bedtimes, longer sleep onset, and less sleep overall. I recommend turning off screens at least one (ideally two) hours before bed and not keeping tablets, phones, or TVs in the bedroom. If homework needs to be done on a computer or laptop in the late evening, then wearing blue light-blocking glasses can be helpful.
Furthermore, teenagers’ natural sleep patterns shift towards later bedtimes and later morning wake up times, which can become problematic when you consider the early wakeup times required for most schools. Making sleep a priority and occasionally taking naps can help.
When children grow into adolescents, they can begin to manage and commit to their own pre-bed routine. Bedtime routines do not have to be complicated and can include a bath or shower, a warm cup of caffeine-free tea, brushing teeth, reading a book, and listening to a meditation, which if repeated daily, will create a routine that will help their body effectively transition from awake time to sleep time.
The Epoch Times: What do you wish more parents understood about sleep?
Ms. Kesatie: Circadian rhythm is the fancy term of the sleep-wake cycle. I wish more parents understood that this cycle is regulated by light and dark, and these rhythms take time to develop. Going outside and spending some time in the fresh air and sunshine (weather permitting) each morning can not only be a mood booster, but it can also help you sleep better at night by regulating your circadian rhythm.
At nighttime, the two important things to keep in mind are 1) making sure the room is cool enough and 2) making sure the room is dark enough (especially if you live in an apartment or urban area). Custom-made blackout shades are the best way to eliminate all light pollution.