Summer’s over, the days are getting shorter, and the late mornings are coming to an end. It’s time to pull out the alarm clock for the kids. With that comes the inevitable arguments about going to bed early and then getting them up for school.
Sleep is critical for kids and teens. Researchers have found adequate sleep offers a wide range of benefits for kids. It helps promote growth, strengthens their immunity, and increases their attention span to help them do better in school. It boosts learning, and some say it even helps them maintain a healthy weight. And it might make that teenager in your life a little more cheerful. Maybe.
Here are some tips on how to help your kids get enough sleep.
How Much Sleep do Kids Need?
The total amount of sleep that kids need may vary. Some kids may need more sleep, others less. But here is a general guideline for sleep requirements for school-aged kids:
- Children 6 to 13 years old should get nine to 11 hours each night.
- For teens ages 14 to 17, eight to 10 hours are recommended.
Teenagers’ biological clocks change during puberty. Typically, adolescents and teens fall asleep at a later hour at night and tend to sleep later in the morning. This pattern can present problems because school schedules often require that teens get up early.
What Are the Warning Signs of Sleep Deprivation?
Some of the signs that your child might be suffering from sleep deprivation include:
- Defiant behavior.
- Difficulty concentrating and learning.
- Difficulty waking up.
- Falling asleep during the day.
- Increased appetite.
- Temper tantrums.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Thank you for subscribing!
You are already subscribed.
Sorry, an error occurred. Please try again later.
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
The Basics: Healthy Sleep Habits
If you’re seeing signs of sleep deprivation, the solution might be good “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene refers to some basic routines that can help your kids fall asleep and stay asleep.
Let’s start with the basics. Here are some healthy sleep habits to help kids of all ages:
- Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
- Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
- Get outside during the day and dim the lights at night. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Dimming the lights at night encourages your child’s body to produce the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays, and vacations.
- Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, white noise machines, humidifiers, fans, and more. These devices can make the bedroom more relaxing.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
- The temperature in the bedroom should be cool — between 60 and 67 degrees — for optimal sleep.
How to Keep to a Bedtime Routine Even in the Summer
When the days get longer and school is over, it’s easy to let kids stay up. But don’t ditch the regular bedtime schedule. Maintaining a consistent routine helps kids get the sleep they need. If the school year just started, it may be too late for that — but it’s something to remember for the weekends.
Teens who sleep in until noon can throw off their circadian rhythm. This can make it more difficult to wake up early again once school starts in the fall (or on Monday). Try to get them up by at least 9 or 10 a.m. so that the transition back to school hours will be easier.
A few weeks before school starts, gradually ease your child back to a bedtime and wake-up hour that provides enough sleep. A good way to do this is to move the alarm clock earlier by 15-minute increments every few nights until the right school sleep schedule is created.
How a Bedtime Routine Can Help Get Kids Away from Their Screens
Everyone offers the same advice: Electronic devices — computers, smartphones, video games, etc. —should be turned off at least one hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens has been found to restrain the production of melatonin. This is the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Lowered melatonin makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Taking away devices from your kids is easier said than done. But a routine can help.
When kids come home from school, they are usually wound up after sitting in a classroom all day. A bedtime routine is important in getting them calmed down and ready for bed. Having a routine — like bath time, followed by a craft, puzzle, or light snack, followed by a bedtime story — gives kids something else to think about other than their devices. For older kids, reading or listening to quiet music can be helpful.
You might want to make breathing exercises a part of your child’s bedtime routine. Deep breathing helps them get more oxygen in their bloodstream. That can help them calm down and reduce stress. This can be a fun game, and there are a lot of ideas for breathing exercises for kids on the internet.
How Can I Help My Teen Sleep Better?
Teens are unlikely to tolerate warm milk and cookies before bedtime. But there are other things you can do.
- Avoid caffeine. Energy drinks and espresso drinks are common sights in teens’ hands. But teens should avoid caffeine as much as possible.
- Encourage your teen to read quietly or listen to some relaxing music before going to bed. But they should not do this in bed. Once you’re in bed, the only thing you should do is sleep. Don’t associate anything else with being in bed besides sleep.
- Get your teen involved in an after-school activity. Even if they don’t like sports, there are lots of other clubs that can help them burn off their energy. An after-school job is another possibility.
- If they like to exercise, encourage it. As little as 10 minutes a day of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can improve nighttime sleep quality. This can be a great habit for the entire family.
- Keep them on a consistent sleep schedule. If they find they are still tired, then talk to them about going to bed earlier.
- Lead by example. Adopt good sleep hygiene yourself so your kids can model your behavior. Have your own sleep routine.
- Stop the screen time in the evening — particularly in their bedroom. Remove the TV from their bedroom. If they can’t stay off their phone at night, make them use the phone outside of their room.
How Does Stress Affect Sleep in Kids?
Sleep problems are common among kids who are anxious or who are making a transition to a new school year. They might have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or experiencing nightmares. And often, one problem feeds the other. Kids who don’t get enough sleep are susceptible to anxiety and depression, which affects sleep.
The good news is, you can take steps to ease your child’s anxiety during the day and set him or her up for a good night’s sleep. Start with these strategies.
- Don’t let them skip school. It is important not to allow kids to let their fears or anxiety overcome them. They are allowed to be anxious about going to school, but they are not allowed to skip school. Kids can have physical side effects from stress. Headaches and abdominal pain are common complaints, but they should still go to school. If your child has any worrisome symptoms, then talk to your pediatrician.
- Talk to them about their anxiety. Avoid asking leading questions such as, “Are you anxious about school?” because they can inadvertently reinforce your child’s nervousness. It’s better to ask open-ended ones such as “How are you feeling about the start of school?” Then you and your child can come up with strategies for managing those worries. It’s best to talk things through in the afternoon than before bed, which could trigger worries while they are in bed.
- Try relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, visualizing a calm place, and doing gentle stretches. Some of these strategies can help ease anxieties. Encourage your child to use these strategies in the morning, before bed, and on an as-needed basis.
If stress and anxiety become a serious problem, be sure to talk to your pediatrician or a counselor.
5 Tips to Handle Nightmares
With the stress of starting another school year, your child may suffer from nightmares. Nightmares are common in school-aged children. Your child may cry out for your comfort or to your room after a nightmare.
Here are some tips to help your child with nightmares.
- Comfort your child with a hug and calming words. Remind your child that the nightmare isn’t real.
- Your child may remember the nightmare and want to talk about it.
- Ask your child to talk about anything they are worried about. Worries and stress may make nightmares or other sleep problems more likely.
- Help your child stay away from scary books or movies before bed. Scary stories might lead to nightmares for some children.
- For younger children, try “anti-monster spray.” You can make your own with simple household items like a spray bottle, an incense diffuser, water, essential oils, and more.
Dealing with Night Terrors
Night terrors and nightmares may seem similar, but there is one important difference. Unlike a nightmare, children typically don’t wake up from night terrors. During the episode, they may scream, shout, flail and kick, sit up in bed, and appear terrorized. But it is very difficult to wake up or communicate with a child during a night terror.
Night terrors — which can last from a few seconds to a few minutes — seem traumatizing. But children will usually return to normal sleep after the incident and have no memory of the night terror the next morning. Night terrors are more likely to occur with girls than with boys, and most kids grow out of them by their teenage years.
If your child does have an episode, speak calmly and softly. Gently squeeze their hand and offer reassurance. Don’t try to wake or shake your child. This could make the problem worse. It’s OK to wait out the night terror. While unpleasant to watch, remember that the episode won’t last long and your child is unlikely to recall any of it in the morning.
While frightening to witness, occasional night terrors are considered normal for kids and do not warrant a trip to the pediatrician’s office. If your child has a lot of stress and often has nightmares, night terrors, or is sleepwalking, you should talk to your pediatrician.
Medications and Your Child’s Sleep
Stimulant medications used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can interrupt sleep just like other stimulants. Talk to your pediatrician if you think that is a problem.
You may wonder if an over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, or a natural remedy might be an option to help your child sleep.
Try to avoid sleep aid medications if possible for kids. The behavioral changes to good sleep hygiene will be more effective in the end. Talk to your pediatrician before trying any of these options.
Most Americans suffer from a sleep deficit. But sleep is critical for growing kids and teens. We live busy, stressful lives and so do our kids. To make sure we get proper sleep, we need to make it happen. Like anything important, some planning, some persistence, and some patience are required to make sure your kids get the sleep they need.
About UPMC Harrisburg
UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.