Healthy Sleep Habits Make Happier Kids

As daylight savings makes sunset later and later, it is tempting to keep children up past their normal bedtimes, but doing so can have consequences. Without adequate sleep, children can quickly become cranky and irritable and concentration suffers. When overtired some children may have trouble falling asleep; others staying asleep. Sleep deprivation can result in a number of issues such as:

  • Depressed mood
  • Reduced energy
  • Weakened immune system
  • Reduced thresholds for stress
  • Altered hormone production
  • Impaired wound healing

All of us have experienced a lack of sleep at one time or another and can appreciate how important sleep is to our daily lives. Children are no different and, in fact, require more sleep than you may think, preferably as consolidated nighttime sleep. Children of preschool and kindergarten ages need at least 11 to 13 hours per night.

As your child grows, it is natural to change sleep routines from needing a daytime nap.  But when doing so be sure you are providing your child the opportunity for a longer consolidated nighttime sleep.  While there is a wide range of normal for when children outgrow naps, most outgrow needing a nap between 3 and 4 years old, but this requires them to be getting enough sleep at night.  You can help with this adjustment by gradually making evening bedtime a bit earlier so that they are still getting plenty of restorative sleep each day. (In contrast, keeping them up late hoping to tire them out is typically counterproductive and results in an overtired child.)

If your child stays up late into the night after having a daytime nap, that may be your signal to begin this process of shifting away from napping and to longer nighttime sleep. Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you need help figuring out what sleep schedule is best for your child.

Sleep restores the body on all levels: cellular, endocrine, immune, metabolic, physical and emotional.

Fortunately, there are some simple things parents can do to help children develop and maintain healthy sleep habits:

  1. Allow your child(ren) a lot of fresh air and exercise in the afternoon.
  2. Keep activities quiet after dinnertime. Avoid television and computer games after dinner. Play a family game or read together instead.
  3. Establish and keep to a set bedtime that allows for at least 10-12 hours of sleep every night.
  4. Establish and keep to a bedtime routine:
    1. Take a warm bath 30-minutes before bedtime. Sipping a warm drink like warm milk or caffeine-free tea helps too.
    2. Put on comfy pajamas and get straight into bed (the body is now ready for sleep due to changes in body temperature).
    3. Read one short story and turn out lights (if using a nightlight, make sure it is dim).
    4. Put on soft, soothing music (or white noise that is soft and consistent).

Consider blackout shades for windows to block out the summer evening sun and make it easier to settle down for the night.  As the temperatures outside get warmer, consider leaving a fan running all night to provide white noise and keep body temperatures cool.


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