Family Caregiving

Not getting enough sleep can negatively affect your children’s health

As a parent or caregiver, you probably have first-hand experience with how cranky, distracted, and out of sorts your children get when they miss an hour or two of sleep. What you might not know is that when children consistently don’t get enough sleep, it can affect their physical and mental health and their development.

One study found that children who did not get an adequate amount of sleep were more impulsive, displayed more aggressive behavior, had more thinking problems, and experienced higher rates of depression, anxiety, and stress. Brain imaging done during the study discovered that children who got fewer than nine hours of sleep a night had changes in the areas of the brain that control attention, memory, and self-control, changes that persisted after two years.

How much sleep do your children need?

The amount of sleep children need depends on their age. In a 24-hour period, children typically need:

  • 12 to 16 hours (including naps) for ages 4 to 12 months
  • 11 to 14 hours (including naps) for ages 1 to 2
  • 10 to 13 hours (including naps) for ages 3 to 5
  • 9 to 12 hours for ages 6 to 12
  • 8 to 10 hours for ages 13 to 18

Signs that your children are not getting as much sleep as they need can include difficulty waking up in the morning, falling asleep during the day, forgetfulness, trouble paying attention and learning new information, moodiness, irritability, and impulsive behavior.

Lack of sleep can also have a negative effect on physical health, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and an irregular heartbeat and weakening the immune system.

Strategies to help your children get the sleep they need

Try these proactive strategies to help your children get enough good quality sleep:

  • Stick to a routine: Bedtime and when your children get up should be consistent, even on weekends and holidays. It’s also helpful to have a regular nighttime routine that helps your children unwind and prepare for bed. Depending on your children’s ages, the routine can include reading a story or listening to music together and even breathing exercises to help them relax and feel calm.
  • Disconnect: An hour or so before bedtime, turn off the tv, computer, and any other devices. If your child has a cell phone, charge it overnight in another room so they’re not tempted to pick it up.
  • Optimize their rooms for sleep: To make it easier to fall and stay asleep, keep the room cool and dark and don’t have loud noise, like the tv, in the rest of the house. A white noise machine can help mask noises made by other family members, adjoining apartments or homes, or the street.
  • Don’t put them to bed hungry or too full: Time your evening meal so children have time to digest before they get in bed. If your children are hungry near bedtime, offer a light snack like whole grain crackers with peanut butter or cheese, a hard boiled egg, or foods that contain tryptophan like yogurt or milk. And avoid caffeine, which is an ingredient in some sports drinks.
  • Spend time in the daylight: Bright natural light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin during the day, which will encourage alertness during the daytime and sleepiness at night.
  • Model good sleep behaviors: When you don’t stay up too late or watch tv or use your phone or computer in bed, you’ll not only show your children what healthy sleep behaviors look like, you’ll also improve your own sleep.




Susan Walker

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