Sleep. It’s that one thing us Moms never get. And it’s not just the kids’ fault- we want that quiet time and we want that “eat all the candy” time. When it comes to our kids, however, we all worry if our children are getting enough rest. Then feel guilty if they don’t. We boast about its importance, the health benefits, and go to great lengths of ensuring our kids get enough sleep.
Indeed, we don’t want our babies to go unrested because we know that means temper tantrums, crabby pants central (er, Mom too), more intolerance than normal, and just makes our jobs as parents/caregivers more difficult. I’ve found, in my experience, no advice, unwelcome. You just never know what works until you try it on for size, amiright?
Preschoolers (3- to 5-year-olds)
Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Children at this age may start going to bed a little earlier than they did as toddlers because they are no longer napping and they are far more active than their pre-toddler years. And when I say active, I mean “run around the house like rabid monkey’s” active.
But that doesn’t guarantee that bedtime will be easy. I mean, you would think that swinging from the chandelier and climbing the walls (come on, don’t act like it’s just my kids that do that) would make them tired, but no. Oh no. Nope. They don’t get tired, they get MORE energy. It’s like they suck right out of us.
It’s also during this age that children may develop what experts call “behavioral insomnia,” Melendres said. Parents of small children may be familiar with this phenomenon, which occurs when children start testing the limits of bedtime, she said.
Little kids may refuse to go to bed by coming up with excuses such as “I need another hug” or “I need a glass of water,” Melendres said.
But the most important thing that a parent can do in this case is set limits, she said. Behavioral insomnia is perpetuated when parents give in to what the kids want, she said.
School-age children (6- to 13-year-olds)
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-age children get from 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Most kids this age do get the recommended amount of sleep, Melendres said.
It’s during this period that some children may develop nighttime fears, such as a fear of the dark, Melendres said. Younger school-age children (and older preschoolers, too) have wild imaginations, she said. Other problems, such as nightmares and snoring, may also affect children’s sleep at this age, she said. [Top 11 Spooky Sleep Disorders]
Kids in this age group spend a lot of their sleep time in slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep (a type of non-REM sleep), Melendres said. Because this kind of sleep is so restorative, school-age children are usually very alert during the day, she said. That means that when you see third- or fourth-graders, for example, who fall asleep in school all the time, it’s a big red flag that they may not be getting enough sleep, she added.
Moreover, doctors know that not getting enough sleep can affect every aspect of a child’s day, Melendres said. It’s not just performance in school, she said. Sleep deprivation affects attention, concentration, decision making and problem-solving, Melendres added. It can also make kids moody and even hyperactive, she said.
To ensure that school-age children get enough sleep, it’s important that they have a regular sleep schedule on both weekdays and weekends, Melendres said. Bedtimes shouldn’t vary between more than 1 or 2 hours from weekday to weekend, she said.
Teenagers (14- to 17-year-olds)
Teenagers often fall short of getting their recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, Melendres said. Indeed, only about a third of all teens get enough sleep, she said.
Kids in this age group have a lot of demands, such as after-school activities and homework, which can keep them up at night, and then they have to wake up very early for school, Melendres said.
But at this age, parents no longer have as much control over bedtime as they once did.
Moreover, teenagers’ circadian rhythms may make it difficult for them to fall asleep early enough at night to get enough sleep. Kids’ biological clocks naturally shift around the time of puberty, Melendres said. Someone who was able to quickly fall asleep at 9 o’clock during his or her young years would have a natural tendency to fall asleep later, after reaching adolescence, Melendres said. [10 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Teen’s Brain]
And because bedtime is delayed, a teen’s natural wake-up time is delayed, too. But even if a teen goes to bed at 11 p.m., to get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep, she or he would have to wake up between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., which usually isn’t feasible on a school day.
As a result, teens are usually chronically sleep-deprived during the week, Melendres said.
Teens may try to make up for this on the weekends by sleeping late, Melendres said. If for example, a teen gets 7 hours of sleep on school nights, instead of closer to 9 hours (which Melendres said she recommends to teens who come to her clinic), that teenager will have accumulated about 10 hours of sleep debt by the weekend. But teens can’t make up for all that on the weekend, she said.
And because teens are so tired all the time, it’s not uncommon for them to take naps after school, if they have the time, Melendres said. But these naps can make it even harder to fall asleep at night, and it becomes a vicious cycle, she said.
Of course, you can’t talk about teens without talking about screens. A lot of teens sleep with their devices in their rooms, so in the middle of the night when they wake up to use the bathroom, they’ll reflexively check their phones, Melendres said. This has even happened while teens were staying over in a sleep lab, she added.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents establish that their children’s bedrooms are “screen-free zones.”
Originally published on Live Science.