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A child’s sleep patterns can determine how they develop, how well they get on with their peers and their teachers, and even whether they grow up to have drug or alcohol problems as an adult. Too little sleep can have serious health consequences. Several different studies from around the world have linked childhood sleep-loss with fatigue and bad moods, attention deficit, medical problems such as allergies and ear infections, impaired memory, academic problems and obesity.
It can be a bit of a challenge to make sure our children get enough sleep; however, with a little bit of effort, you can literally change your child’s life – for the better.
Here we breakdown the hidden reasons your child might be struggling with sleep, and answer that age-old question: How much sleep do children need?
What keeps kids up?
Technology: Although new technologies are fun, educational and great for accessing information quickly, they come at a cost: sleep. The light that most devices transmit decreases melatonin production (the hormone that makes humans sleepy), and they alert and activate the brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Nightmares: Bad dreams occurring during REM sleep can contribute to fear and anxiety, as they can be remembered. Night terrors, which are less common and not remembered, are also associated with stress, anxiety and nutritional deficiencies. Respond promptly to nightmares, as the more quickly you break the spell of a frightening dream, the more quickly your child can get back to sleep.
Nighttime fear and anxiety: Even though their lives seem pretty simple to us, kids feel pressure, and they’ll benefit if you encourage them to share those pressures with you. Daytime stresses, such as frightening TV, stories and imagery, including the news, can all be stressful for children.
How much sleep do children need?
There’s no set number of hours of sleep that applies to everyone – needs are affected by growth rates, stress, illness, activity levels and genetic factors. However, the US National Sleep Foundation suggests the following number of hours per 24-hour period:
• Ages 0 to 2 months: 12 to 18 hours
• Ages 3 to 11 months: 14 to 15 hours
• Ages 1 to 3 years: 12 to 14 hours
• Ages 3 to 5 years: 11 to 13 hours
• Ages 5 to 10 years: 10 to 11 hours
• Ages 10 to 17 years: 8.5 to 9.25 hours
• Adults: 7 to 9 hours
How can you help?
• Make sure your child’s bedroom is comfortable for them. Invest in a good-quality natural fibre bed and bedding. Clean, dust and dehumidify regularly.
• Set a regular age-appropriate bedtime and stick to it. Introduce a calming bedtime routine, such as bathing or reading a book.
• Turn off the night light once they fall asleep.
• Provide sleep-friendly nutrients, including zinc, fish oil and probiotics, which keep kids healthier and calmer; B6, which can help reduce nightmares; and herbs, homeopathic and flower essences, which can help bring emotional balance to children.
• Struggling to stay attentive
• Acting out or being oppositional to authority figures such as parents or teachers
• Falling asleep very quickly (within a few minutes) when given the chance
• Being “wired” at the wrong time of day (e.g., just before bedtime)
• Having trouble keeping impulses in check
• Getting easily frustrated and quickly irritated