NSights Blog

We could all use a good night's sleep

One of the greatest challenges of becoming a parent is the ability to get enough sleep. Most parents adapt to not being able to sleep enough and gain hope from parents of teenagers who tell them, "There is hope."

While it indeed "gets better" for parents at some point in time, what about the actual sleep needs of our children?

We know that sleep plays a fundamental role in child development, and that lack of sleep, defined as not meeting ‘total sleep duration," results in both physical and mental problems.

Lack of sleep in children can result in irritability, stress, forgetfulness, low motivation, anxiety and depression. There is now also evidence that links lack of sleep with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation results in hormonal changes that affect appetite and hunger.
Some healthcare providers have sounded the alarm bell, speaking of a "hidden health crisis."

In the United Kingdom almost 10,000 children under 16 years of age were admitted with sleeping disorders, including sleep apnea. This all suggests that we can contribute to the overall health and well-being of children by helping them to get enough sleep; and our job starts immediately after birth.

Guidelines recommend that in the first two months of life, babies require between 16 and 18 hours of sleep; from two to six months, slightly less (14-16 hours); and from six to 12 months, about 14 hours. Children aged 1-12 years need about 10-12 hours of sleep, including nights and naps, while teens (>13 years) require eight to 10 hours. These are guidelines of course; remember that each child is different and may require a little more or a little less sleep.

Aside from the total amount of sleep over a 24-hour period, many parents are apprehensive about their baby's ability to sleep through the night, defined as the longest period of uninterrupted sleep, typically six to eight hours. This usually occurs at age five to six months, but not infrequently occurs many months later, especially in breastfed children. Fortunately, it does not look like that a late start in sleeping through the night has any serious developmental effects. A delay in sleeping through the night, however, does affect the emotional well-being of parents, predominantly mothers.

The biggest sleep challenges for toddlers and older children include bedtime resistance, night awakenings (and difficulty returning to sleep) and nightmares. In general, we recommend implementing sleep friendly routines: Stick to the same bedtime and the same bedtime routine. Try to ensure a calm, quiet and dark bedroom environment. Use the child's bedroom for sleeping. Do not allow television, or any other form of screen time in your child's bedroom. Tuck your child into bed in a sleepy but awake state. This will help your child to return to sleep if he/she wakes up in middle of the night. After a nightmare, calm your child down and return child to their bed surrounded with items of comfort.

When looking at high school students, data indicates that about three-quarters of our high school children are not getting enough sleep. The reasons behind this are complex and include genuine biological changes related to age that affect the way we sleep and socioeconomic changes that provide teenagers with major distractions that challenge healthy sleep hygiene.

With regard to this age group, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that teens sleep in a dark and quiet room, limit the use of electronics before bed, and maintain a consistent sleep schedule on both weekdays and weekends. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that middle and high schools not start before 8:30 a.m. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that delaying school start times until after 8:30 a.m. is an effective counter-measure to chronic sleep loss in teenagers, and in fact improves their physical and mental health as well as their academic achievement. Unfortunately, we fall short of this recommendation in Washoe County and around most of the United States.

So now that the sleep needs of children have been described, little would seem to stand in the way for a good seven to nine hours night rest for parents, right? Well, much of what applies to children also applies to us. We too need routine, going to bed around the same time, to sleep in a cool, dark, quiet environment, without the distraction of TV, smartphones, or any other mobile devices just before turning off the lights.

Keep in mind, like your child, we too need to wind down and shift into sleep mode. Try to spend a half hour or so before going to sleep doing something that calms you down, like reading or listening to soothing music. Then turn off the lights and sleep tight!

Max Coppes head shot