The Importance of Good Sleep for Kids

The Importance of Good Sleep for Kids

Anyone who has experienced a sleepless night (or many) knows how debilitating it can be. Difficulty concentrating the following day, low motivation or just being downright cranky are common side effects. Yet, much deeper effects can occur that set one up for residual problems, especially in kids.

For instance, in children, lack of sleep can negatively impact crucial physical and mental development. It can lead to serious health issues, such as obesity and type-2 diabetes. Poor sleep contributes to diminished mental health, depression, anxiety, accidents, attention issues, behavior problems and unsatisfactory academic performance.

“Also, our growth hormone is released during sleep. So, lack of sleep can affect their general growth, not only their brain but their bodies,” states Tuesday Glenn, sleep technologist with Le Bonheur's Sleep Center.

The amount of sleep required varies based on age. Newborns need 16-18 hours of sleep per day, toddlers 10-13, school-age kids 10-12 hours, preteens 9-11 and teenagers 8-10. Young adults also require a solid eight hours.

“There's a movement to start school a bit later because kids need more sleep, and they're just not getting it. People say go to bed earlier, but I think we all know that's nearly impossible,” says Glenn.

Benefits of Proper Sleep

One of the biggest benefits of good sleep is better brain function. Kids experience better concentration, improved problem-solving skills, and more creativity. They also set themselves up for an increased ability to learn and retain information.

“They're going to be in a better mood, have more energy, which then is going to lead to more activity. As they have more energy, they'll have a better appetite. It's like a snowball effect,” explains Glenn. “They'll do more and be more tired, and then they can get more good sleep.”

Setting the Stage for Good Sleep

It’s not always easy for parents and caregivers to get kids to go to bed at an appropriate hour. Glenn encourages caregivers to put a positive spin on a “time for bed” suggestion, rather than being harsh about it. For example, “You need to get your rest.”

“Make it sound like more of a good, positive thing,” says Glenn. “That's going to be a big contributor because our kids are going to feel or mirror how we feel. If we're sounding like it's a stressful, negative thing to go to bed, they're also going to feel that.”

Another recommendation is to implement a sleep structure—a regular bedtime, as well as a bedtime routine. When they’re small, that might mean brushing teeth, putting on pajamas and a bedtime story. As they get older, it may involve talking about the day, what went well or what went wrong, so they feel supported.

Sleep environment is a crucial aspect of proper sleep. This includes a cool, dark, quiet space. It’s best to avoid digital devices at least 30 minutes before bed—which can be a tall order. Glenn urges caregivers to do their best in this regard. An additional tip is to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon or evening, replace with water or a sports drink.

If kids are having sleep issues, despite such interventions, it’s time to discuss this with the child’s pediatrician. They can then suggest options or connect the family with a sleep specialist.

“Unfortunately, as a society, we take sleep for granted. Anything we can do to make parents more aware is helpful,” says Glenn. “Of course, whenever they start having concerns, it’s time for professional help. If they're seeing excessive daytime sleepiness, teachers report they're falling asleep in class, excessive irritability and needing naps, that’s important. But then also, if they notice any snoring or pauses in breathing, those are definitely things you need to bring to your pediatrician's attention right away.”

Want to learn more about Sleep Medicine at Le Bonheur?

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