The Importance of Sleep and Your Child

The Importance of Sleep and Your Child

As caregivers, we all want the best for our children.  We want them to be physically healthy. We want them to thrive, cognitively.  We want them to feel emotionally safe and stable. There is one important key to helping your child achieve all these things.  It’s simple, it’s inexpensive, and it’s highly accessible to every family. The key is sleep.

            Every year in March, the National Sleep Foundation seeks to promote better sleep as a way to increase overall health and well-being through National Sleep Awareness Week.  In honor of this goal, we’ve presented helpful information, as well as a few tips, to help your child achieve the best night of sleep possible.

Why Is Sleep So Important for Your Child?

Sleep plays a big role in your child’s overall physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development.   According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep is essential for optimal health and development in young children.  In fact, most kids spend approximately 40% of their overall childhood sleeping. That means that by the time your child reaches the age of 12, they will have likely spent approximately 4.8 years asleep. 

Much of your child’s brain development occurs during the time in which they are sleeping.  Brain development during sleep has a direct effect on a child’s ability to learn and their ability to manage their emotions.  Without the proper amount of sleep, we may see that children have difficulties with attention span and focus regarding cognitive development.  On the social-emotional side, we may see that they are more irritable and may have exaggerated emotional responses.

             Proper sleep has also been linked to health and wellness in children.  Proteins, known as cytokines, are produced during sleep.  These are our main defense in combatting infections, illness and even stress.  If your child’s body is not making enough cytokines, he may be more susceptible to colds, flu, other health issues. The number of cytokines can be negatively impacted by too little sleep. If your child isn’t getting enough sleep, they are producing fewer cytokines, and a reduced number of cytokines could lead to health challenges.

Tips for Helping Your Child Achieve Restful and Productive Sleep

  1. Make sure your child gets the recommended amount of sleep for their age:  In order for a child to develop at an optimal level, it is necessary that they receive the proper amount of sleep within a 24-hour period.  Below are general recommendations regarding sleep amounts and ages:

Newborn to Two Months: 16-18 hours

Two Months to Four Months: 14-16 hours

Four Months to Six Months: 14-15 hours

Six Months to Nine Months:14 hours

Nine Months to Twelve Months: 14 Hours

Twelve Months to Eighteen Months: 13-14 Hours

Eighteen Months to Twenty-Four Months: 13-14 Hours

Two Years to Three Years: 12-14 Hours

Three Years to Five Years: 11-13 Hours

Five Years to Twelve Years: 10-11 Hours

  • Implement and maintain routines before bedtime:  Provide your child with a consistent routine and timeline each evening before bed. Your child not only finds comfort in routines, but this will also condition their bodies and brains for optimal sleep.  A bedtime routine may include a soothing bath, time for reading, and time for snuggling together.  Also, make sure to power down from all devices and electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Set boundaries and limits around bed time expectations: Has your child ever asked for one more bedtime story? One more drink of water? One more trip to the bathroom? The list can go on and on. It’s okay to come in for one last good night hug, but your child would be in and out of bed all night long if they thought they might be able to get away with it. Set firm boundaries around bedtime and stick to them.  If they understand the boundaries, they will be far less likely to push them.
  • Always consider safe sleep practices for infants:  Safe sleep practices are recommendations used to help create safe sleep environments for infants and babies.  An unsafe sleep environment could result in suffocation or strangulation.  Unsafe sleep environments have also been found to be a factor in the occurrence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, often called SIDS for short.

Safe sleep recommendations include:

            · Placing a sleeping baby on their back; the risk of SIDS is much higher any time a baby sleeps on their side or stomach.

            · Clearing the crib of soft bedding and toys; avoid blankets, bumpers, and stuffed toys in the crib.  These items can also contribute to smothering and strangulation.  Outfit the crib with only a fitted sheet. 

· Place the baby in a sleep sack rather than swaddling with a loose blanket. 

            · Placing a baby in their own crib or bassinets to sleep; it can be dangerous for a baby to sleep in a bed with another child or adult.  Couches and other soft furniture are also unsafe places for an infant to sleep. Though a baby should not sleep in bed with the mother, it is advised that the bassinet or crib be in the same room as the mother.

            · Avoid overheating; Infants should be dressed in light clothing for sleep. The room should be kept at a comfortable temperature.  Consider using a fan to keep air circulating.

Sleep Tight!

            With just a few sleep considerations, you can encourage growth in all areas of your child’s development.  Keep your child sleeping safe and sound, not only this month, but every month of the year!


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