This article appears in Nov.-December 2019 Family magazine.
The battle over bedtime is being waged nightly. Whether kids want to stay up late to do homework, play video games or attend sports and other extracurricular activities, school-age children need a consistent bedtime.
No matter the age, children report improved alertness, energy, mood and physical well-being when enjoying healthy, consistent sleep, said Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and co-director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis.
“A sleep schedule is incredibly important for children of all ages. Having a good bedtime routine helps ensures sufficient sleep. Plus, kids love to follow routines,” Paruthi said.
A bedtime routine helps kids ease into sleep.
“It’s hard for the brain to go, go, go, and then to stop and sleep,” Paruthi said.
A nightly routine allows a person to decompress from the day and can include a light snack, brushing teeth, reading books, a warm bath and, most importantly, going to bed at a consistent time.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends children get the following amount of sleep on a regular basis:
• Infants 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
• Ages 1 to 2: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
• Ages 3 to 5: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
• Ages 6 to 12: Nine to 12 hours
• Ages 13 to 18: Eight to 10 hours
These recommendations are based on more than 800 research studies are are associated with better health outcomes including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life and mental and physical health, Paruthi said.
Not getting enough sleep leads to issues with attention, behavior and learning problems as well as the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression. Insufficient sleep in teenagers is associated with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
One of the most common questions Paruthi hears in her practice is, what should parents do when something like a band concert or a special occasion disrupts a child’s sleep schedule?
“Keep the routine but speed it up,” Paruthi said. So if you normally read three books before bed, read one, or read three but at a faster pace.
Older children, in middle and high school, need to learn to prioritize sleep.
“We often think that there’s not enough time for everything, but if we prioritize sleep — getting enough good quality sleep — it helps us be more efficient, effective in all the other parts of our lives,” Paruthi said.
Without good sleep, mood is the first thing affected. People become cranky and unhappy, Paruthi said. The next loss is speed; it takes longer to complete tasks. Lastly, we lose accuracy, Paruthi said.
With different sleep needs for each child, making sure that everyone goes to sleep on time and gets the sleep they need can be a challenge. To help, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has created an online bedtime calculator (sleepeducation.org/healthysleep/make-time-2-sleep-bedtime-calculator) to determine a customized bedtime based on each individual’s age and needed wake time.