Many parents struggle with issues related to getting their children to sleep and helping them to stay asleep. I have probably been asked the question “How much sleep does my child need?” more than any other question in my career. Parents are frequently more aware of the impact of their child’s sleep on their own functioning when they find themselves awake for the third night or more in a row trying to deal with onset or maintenance insomnia in their little ones. Adults are quick to perceive the daytime fatigue, poor mood and declining cognitive skills in themselves following poor sleep.
Typically, daytime fatigue is a less commonly reported side effect in young children following decrease sleep. More common complaints include hyperactivity, behavioral problems and subtle learning difficulties. In fact, studies have shown consistently that children who sleep one hour or more less than their required total sleep time each night have twice the rates of ADHD, three times the rate language and spatial deficits and significantly lower scores on measures of sustained attention.
Why sleep is critical to kids:
One of the reasons sleep is so critical to the developing brain is that this is a period where many hormones, such as human growth hormone, are released. Disruptions in sleep cycles can lead to inadequate hormone regulation, which has enormous impacts on
development. In addition, REM sleep, which is critical for consolidation of new learning, makes up a higher percentage of total sleep time and deficits in this area can impact learning and school performance. Sleep is not simple a passive, restful process, but rather a period of the lifecycle devoted to ensuring adequate development.
Total amount of sleep children need:
While the individual needs of a child can vary, total sleep time (including naps):
• First year is 13-14 hours per day
• Ages 3-8 require about 10-12 hours
• Adolescence, around 9-10 hours.
In fact, though adolescents experience a “phase shift” (they stay up later and want to sleep in later) during their teens, their need for sleep varies only slightly from younger children and the rates of daytime fatigue due to decreased sleep become more apparent. In fact, in a large scale study, high school students reported the greatest fatigue in classes before 10:00am and their grades in these classes (regardless of the subject) where significantly lower in 55% of the students. In addition, 25% reported falling asleep in class the previous week.
Reasons why your child may be staying up late:
With the increasing data on long-term deficits in cognitive and behavioral performance in young children with inadequate sleep and correlational data of declining grades in sleep deprived teens, one would think that more emphasis would be placed on ensuring healthy sleep habits in children. However, the data suggests otherwise.
• Increased homework
• Demanding parental work schedules
• After-school activities have lead to later nights for many children.
• Conditions such as sleep disordered breathing, some allergy medications, restless limbs
• Poor sleep habits
Most, if not all sleep problems are treatable with good routines and habits, addressing underlying causes of sleep disruption and environmental changes. If your child has problems getting to sleep, staying asleep, arising too early or snoring, please contact a specialist. These are not problems to be ignored or taken lightly.