MD Mama

Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kid sleeping.jpgAs a pediatrician, I talk about sleep a lot--and I get lots of questions from parents who are worried that their children might not be getting enough sleep.

It's worth worrying about, as sleep is really important for health. Sleep is important for preventing obesity: a study just released in the journal Pediatrics showed that children who got less sleep than the average were more likely to be overweight, and it's not the first study to show a link between sleep and cardiovascular health. Inadequate sleep is also linked to behavioral, learning, and mental health problems. So parents should be asking their doctor about sleep!

How much sleep you need depends in part on how old you are. Here are some recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation (this is the amount of sleep recommended in a 24-hour day):

-Newborns (0-2 months): 12-18 hours
-Infants (3-11 months): 14-15 hours
-Toddlers (1-3 years): 12-14 hours
-Preschool (3-5 years): 11-13 hours
-School-age (5-10 years): 10-11 hours
-Teens (11-17 years): 8.5-9.5 hours
-Adults (18 and over): 7-9 hours

But these are just guidelines--every person is different when it comes to how much sleep they actually need. So here are two things all parents should do:

1. Watch for signs that your child isn't getting enough sleep. If your child is happy and energetic, things are likely fine. However, if they are consistently cranky, acting sleepy, or less energetic, especially if they are on the lower end of the recommended hours, it may mean that they need more sleep. If your child snores, please tell your doctor! If breathing is blocked during sleep, it's not good and may prevent restful sleep no matter how long you're in bed. It can also lead to health problems.
2. Make sure you are doing everything you can to promote good sleep and good sleep habits.
- Have a regular bedtime. This makes a huge difference. Don't vary it much on weekends or vacations; consistency is best for good sleep.
- Have a regular, and calming, bedtime routine. Think warm bath or shower, quiet time, reading, etc.
- Beware of TV. Besides the fact that it is distracting, and we stay awake to watch more of it, the blue light it emits actually can activate the brain and make us more awake. So don't make TV part of the bedtime routine, and please: keep it out of the bedroom!
- Have a quiet, dark, and cool sleeping environment. Consider room darkening curtains. Keep the noise and light in the household down after children go to bed, too. (I remember lying awake many hours as a child listening to my parents talk, play music, or watch TV.)

While you are at it, you might want to try getting a bit more sleep yourself (I should definitely try this--I am an outrageous multitasker and get way too little sleep). It may just make you a healthier and happier person too!

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