Kids and Sleep

Information compiled by Linda N. Stuhlman for Best Beginnings workshops.

What should a parent know about children and sleep?

  • Children need a good night’s sleep to grow, physically and mentally.
  • Sleepy kids get hurt and sick more. Also their behavior is affected!
  • Research is showing that sleep and obesity are related. So are ADHD and sleep.
  • Being tired is stressful, for both kids and parents.
  • Enough sleep leads to better learning.

What helps children get more sleep?

  • Plan for 14 hours for children up until age 3; 12 for ages 3-6; 10 for ages 6-10
  • Establish a bed and naptime schedule.
  • Play outside at least an hour a day. Inside exercise is good too.
  • Only 1 hour of “plugged in” time per day.
  • No electronics in the bedroom. CD player for quiet music is okay!
  • Limit caffeine in child’s diet (cola, chocolate, tea, etc.)
  • Start bedtime routine before children are over tired.

How can parents develop a bedtime routine?

  • Start 30 minutes prior to bedtime with a calming activity.
  • Include tooth brushing, changing, toileting, bathing
  • Book reading time
  • Some choices are okay “do you want your red or blue pjs?”
  • Give your child undivided attention (no cell phone use)
  • Keep in mind, “Kid’s time is over, now it is parent’s time!”

What to do if children wake up during the night?

  • Watch for health related symptoms such as snoring. Talk to your pediatrician.
  • Night lights or similar to keep the “monsters” away.
  • Keep noise down outside the child’s room.
  • Recognize that nightmares and night terrors are common.
  • Teach children to fall back asleep on their own.
  • Monitor the temperature and humidity; not too hot or dry

Children and Sleep

Every living creature needs to sleep. It is the primary activity of the brain during early development. Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, are regulated by light and dark and these rhythms take time to develop, resulting in the irregular sleep schedules of newborns. The rhythms begin to develop at about six weeks, and by three to six months most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle.

There are two alternating types or states of sleep:

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or “quiet” sleep. During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.

Rapid Eye Movement(REM) or “active” sleep. During REM sleep, our brains are active and dreaming occurs. Our bodies become immobile, breathing and heart rates are irregular.

Babies spend 50 percent of their time in each of these states and the sleep cycle is about 50 minutes. At about six months of age, REM sleep comprises about 30 percent of sleep. By the time children reach preschool age, the sleep cycle is about every 90 minutes.


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