Sleep is as important to our health and well-being as food and water, but most of us don’t get enough of it. Sleep deprivation is currently one of the most pervasive health concerns in the United States. For children, sleep plays a critical role in their healthy growth and development. Beyond simply affecting children’s moods, behaviors, and academic performances, insufficient sleep has also been associated with lower social skills, learning disabilities, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
So how much sleep is enough? When experts study the sleep needs of children, they consider the amount of sleep children need in a 24-hour period, including naps. The National Sleep Foundation publishes a sleep chart and tips, by age, on their “Sleep For Kids” website. Since every child is different, sleep charts are not always exact; however, there are some agreed-upon ranges for children of different ages:
Do these numbers surprise you? If so, you are not alone. Most parents are unaware of just how much sleep their children require in a 24-hour period. And more importantly, parents often don’t know how to teach their children good sleep habits.
Sleep habits—both positive and negative—are established early in a child’s life, often in infancy, and parents play a key role in the process. For example, in order to help a baby stop crying, sometimes a parent will immediately pick up or feed a baby. After time, this may result in the baby becoming dependent on someone else to help him fall asleep. Then, as he ages, his inability to fall asleep by himself escalates into nightly behavioral tug of wars involving “another glass of water” or “just one more hug”—leaving all family members frustrated and exhausted in the end.
The key, of course, is to help your child establish good sleep habits early. Here are some suggestions:
If you suspect your child is sleep-deprived but are having difficulty establishing new sleep habits and routines, it’s time to take action. In addition to trying the tips listed in this article, you may find the following resources helpful:
Getting enough sleep is an important part of your child’s development. Make sure you keep your pediatrician informed of your child’s sleep habits as a part of each routine check up.
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