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How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need?

A good night's sleep is as important to your child as a hearty breakfast. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most children get less than the recommended amount of sleep over a 24-hour period. Reuben Walia, MD, who specializes in sleep medicine, including pediatric sleep disorders, discusses ways to improve your child's sleep patterns to ensure a better night's sleep for the whole family.

“Kids need good sleep because they are learning and developing,” says Dr. Walia. “The impact on kids is different than what happens with adults. When grownups don’t get enough sleep, it can diminish daily productivity but it isn’t a developmental concern.”

Children with insufficient sleep are more likely to become obese and have difficulty reducing their weight later in life. They also are at greater risk of depression and anxiety as adults.

Using cell phones, tablets and computers and playing video games in the evening are a common culprit in kids’ sleep trouble. “The brain is designed to wind down and prepare for sleep when it is darker,” Dr. Walia says. “Devices emit blue light, a higher-frequency wave that is more concentrated. It disrupts melatonin, which is our natural sleep hormone.”

Dr. Walia offers parents the following tips:
  • Know the amount of daily sleep needed for your child’s age:
    • Infants: 14–15 hours
    • Toddlers: 12–14 hours. 
    • Preschoolers: 11–13 hours
    • School-age: 10–11 hours
    • Teenagers: 8.5–10 hours
  • Look out for signs your child lacks enough sleep, such as a big drop in grades; difficulty paying attention and remembering; or falling asleep at school or taking naps at home.
  • Establish a consistent routine so your child is eating dinner, brushing their teeth, reading a book or story and winding down at the same times every evening.
  • Stop device use, TV watching and video games 30–60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Avoid strenuous physical exertion, stimulating social activity and large meals in the three hours leading up to bedtime.
  • Keep cellphones, tablets and similar devices out of your child’s bedroom, which are designed for activities that stimulate your brain. Having them in the room leads your child to start associating them with what should be a sleep environment. Rather than using a phone for waking up, set a good old-fashioned alarm clock.

“Our culture focuses on being busy and active, often to the detriment of restoring ourselves with the sleep we need,” says Dr. Walia. “But getting enough sleep is especially crucial for children, both for their success now and for their wellbeing as adults.”

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