While adults generally require about seven to nine hours of sleep, newborns, children and teens need significantly more. Just as a lack of sleep makes adults grumpy and impairs their attention span and critical-thinking abilities, when a youngster isn't getting enough shuteye there are negative consequences.
“Sleep deprivation affects a young person’s learning and ability to focus and can cause behavior-related problems that affect your child’s interaction with others,” says Matilda Remba, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic, Mission Valley.
Getting fewer than the recommended hours can also increase the risk of accidents, injuries and obesity, and teens who don’t get enough sleep may also experience an increased risk of self-harm and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you suspect your child isn’t getting enough sleep, try this simple test: If your child wakes up fairly happy and easily in the morning and doesn’t have a meltdown in the late afternoon, he or she is probably well-rested.
For newborns, talk with your pediatrician and ask for recommendations for your unique situation.
For preschoolers and older children, try these tips:
1. Create a consistent bedtime ritual
“This should include quiet activities, such as a lullaby, a bath and a story,” says Dr. Remba. “Turn the lights down and say ‘goodnight’ to end the routine.”
2. Keep bedtime early
Overall, children younger than 5 do their best with a bedtime between 6 and 7:30 p.m. As they grow older, kids want to be more independent and go to sleep later, so make sure to develop some guidelines so they aren’t sleep-deprived. If your second-grader needs nine to 12 hours of sleep per night for good health and needs to get up at 7 a.m. every morning, simple math will indicate when it’s time to go to sleep at night.
3. Limit screen time before bed
The glow from electronic screens can confuse the brain and stop the natural production of hormones that help kids sleep. Don’t let your kids have TVs in their rooms and have them turn off smartphones, tablets and other screens about an hour before bedtime.
“Removing all electronic devices from the bedroom provides a good sleep environment and promotes good sleep practices,” says Dr. Remba. “If there are no devices in the room, your children won’t be tempted to turn them on later.”
4. Avoid drinks and foods that contain caffeine
Don’t keep soft drinks and other caffeinated beverages in the house. It’s easier to keep caffeine away from younger kids, but it’s difficult with teens. Let your older child know that drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening will keep them up at night.
Since up to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks, according to the CDC, discuss the sleep implications and other health concerns of these beverages, which can contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine.
“Drinking multiple energy drinks a day could lead to an increased risk for headaches, high blood pressure and increased heart rate,” says Dr. Remba.