Everyone struggles to get a good night sleep once in awhile, even children. However, children can also suffer from common sleep disorders that keep them from getting the sleep they need to be healthy and to excel. Children, who routinely feel sleepy during the day or who struggle to behave appropriately in school, may not be getting enough sleep at night. Disordered sleep is common amongst school aged children (ages 5-12) and can cause mood swings, behavior problems, and cognitive difficulties that impact school performance.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), children aged 5 to 12 need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep each night. It is very important that children are getting the sleep they need because sleep impacts their mental and physical development. Unfortunately, one of the NSF’s Sleep in America polls found that 69% of children under 10 struggle to get enough sleep at night because of disordered sleep. The most common sleep disorders in this age group include:
- Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
- Sleeptalking and Sleepwalking
- Night Terrors or Sleep Terrors
- Sleep Apnea
If you suspect that a child is struggling with one of the sleep disorders above, talk to their doctor about treatment options. They may request that you keep a sleep diary for a few weeks that keeps track of things like when they went to bed, if they woke up during the night, when they woke up, and what problems they are having getting to sleep, staying asleep, and because they aren’t getting enough sleep. The doctor may also refer you to a sleep specialist or request a sleep study be completed to aid in diagnosis.
It is also important to remember that not every child who wakes up tired or falls asleep at dinner is struggling with a sleep disorder. Sometimes, children aren’t getting the sleep they need because they don’t have good sleep habits. Helping kids understand the importance of sleep and assisting them in developing healthy sleep habits will benefit every area of their life.
Here are some great ways parents can help children get the sleep they need tonight, and every night.
- Teach healthy habits. This means setting boundaries that support good sleep habits and modeling the behaviors that promote sleep.
- Stick to a schedule. Everyone, especially school-aged children, sleeps better and more consistently when they stick to a schedule. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Setup a sleep-supportive environment. Sometimes it is the little things that keep kids from getting the sleep they need. If there is too much light coming in through their bedroom window or if the TV down the hall is loud enough for them to hear, it can keep them from getting a good night’s sleep. Check their bedroom for environmental factor that might be stealing their sleep.
- Limit electronics. Unfortunately, most of the gadgets and games our children love to use come with backlit screens that can mess with their melatonin levels. Using a game system, laptop, or even just watching TV too close to bedtime can send their brain the wrong signal and keep them from falling asleep.
- Why Kids Need Sleep (valleysleepcenter.com)
- 4 Back to School Tips for Getting Kids Back to Bedtime (valleysleepcenter.com)
- How to Keep Kids on a Sleep Schedule (valleysleepcenter.com)