Kids – Sleep Deprivation
How Much Sleep Do They Really Need?
Lack of sleep seems to go hand in hand with children; starting with the constant cries of hunger from the crib bound, to the ever popular request for water, or monster under the bed, or the classic night terrors as the young settle into their own bed.
It does not take very long for new parents to discover that the length and quality of their baby’s sleep has a direct impact on the whole family.
So how do you get kids to go to bed? What should you do when your crying child wakes you in the middle of the night? And how much sleep do your kids really need?
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
When a child is sleep deprived they can become disagreeable, hyperactive and have extreme behavior problems.
The amount of sleep needed varies with the age of your child, but we must remember sleep is a personal thing. 2 year old Ricky may sleep for 12 hours straight, while 2 year old Karen may be just as refreshed and alert after sleeping for only 9 hours.
There is no perfect number of hours for a child to sleep but testing has shown us an average recommended number of hours for specific age groups.
Babies (to 6 months old)
The internal clock of a newborn is not fully developed and they will sleep up to 18 hours per 24 hour period (night and/or day)
In the first few weeks a newborn should be woken and fed every three to four hours until they have gained a good amount of weight. After the baby is of good weight it is fine to allow them to sleep for longer periods of time.
After the first few weeks infants may sleep four to five hours between feeds, if they do sleep for long stretches of time at night you may wish to nurse them or give them an extra bottle during the day.
Eventually your child will begin to sleep the whole night. Around three months babies average a total of about 14 hours sleep in a 24 hour period with 8-9 hours at night.
Babies can make a lot of noises, even cry in their sleep, and if they do wake at night it might only be a few minutes before they fall asleep again. It is not necessary to respond to every cry you hear but if your child is under 6 months old and continues to cry it is important to respond as they may be uncomfortable, cold, hot, need changing or sick.
When responding to a crying child, or waking them for feeding, it is important to be as fast as possible. Your baby has no idea about night and day, just that they have a need and want you to help them. So try not to stimulate your child too much by talking, playing, or turning on lights. This will help teach your child that night time is sleep time.
It is important to establish a good bedtime routine. Any pre-sleep activities such as bathing or reading should be done in the same order at the same time every night, and your baby will soon associate these with sleeping. Ideally you should place your baby in the crib before they fall asleep.
Eventually this routine will help your baby fall asleep by themselves, and if woken, help them sooth themselves back to sleep.
Kids 6 to 12 Months
At six months old most babies do not need a middle of the night feeding; they need about 14 hours of sleep per day with two or three 30 minute to two hour naps.
If your child wakes at night and you do not think that it is hungry, wait a few minutes before responding, they may just need a few minutes before they go back to sleep.
If your baby will not settle down on their own you may have to pick them up, gently rub their back and talk soothingly to them, then place them back into the crib to settle down again.
If your baby is sick appropriate care is needed, depending on the severity you may need to call for professional medical care or visit your doctor.
A normal step in a child’s development between 6 to 12 months is separation anxiety. Although this can be concerning for both child and adult the rules of responding do not change.
Unless the child just will not settle down try not to pick them up or talk too much. Do not stimulate them by turning on the lights, singing, playing or feeding them. These will not encourage your baby to fall asleep on their own and will increase their cries for attention.
Most toddlers between the ages of one and three will sleep around 12 to 14 hours in a 24 hour period. At this age wanting to be close to mum and dad or separation anxiety can motivate your child to stay awake.
For toddlers it is important to put them to bed at the same time every night and set a simple bed time ritual between 5 to 30 minutes long. Do not make it too complicated and include calming activities such as bathing, reading or listening to soft music. When possible let your child make their own choices. Let them pick which pajamas to wear, the reading material or music and which stuffed animal they would prefer on the bed. This will give them a sense of control.
At this age teething problems are common and active dreaming begins, both of which may wake your toddler in the middle of the night. With toddlers not yet being able to distinguish reality from imagination dreams can be alarming and nightmares especially frightening.
If your child is woken by a dream or nightmare it is important to hold and comfort them, encourage them to talk about the dream and remain with them until they calm down enough to go back to sleep.
Keeping kids up to make them more tired so they sleep better will have the opposite effect. Over tired children will find it more difficult to sleep and may exhibit behavioral problems.
Preschool age kids generally sleep around 11 to 12 hours per night and may not need to nap during the day.
As with toddlers a before sleep routine is an excellent way to help your child get the rest they need.
When creating a bedtime routine remember:
- Allow a relaxation (quiet time) period 30 minutes before bedtime
- Put them to bed at the same time every night
- Have play time and meal times at the same time to create a routine
- Limit eating and drinking before bedtime
- Avoid any stimulants before bedtime
- Be sure the bedroom is comfortable, cozy, quiet, and your child is able to sleep in the room
- Do not play games or watch TV on the bed. It is only for sleeping
- You may read or play soft music
- Allow your child to pick the story or music
- Allow your child to pick their own pajamas and which stuffed animal they prefer etc
- Give your child a feeling of security by tucking them in snugly
At times preschool children may find it difficult to get to sleep or be woken by nightmares or night terrors.
For these times you should create a night time kit with things like a flashlight, your child’s favorite music and story book. Keep it near your child’s bed, in a place that it is easily accessible in the middle of the night. Be sure to explain the kit to your child.
Stuffed animals and warm, soft blankets are also great for helping kids feel safe.
Lying with your preschool aged child until they fall asleep is a very temporary fix, it will not establish good, or help existing sleep patterns. Always give comfort, support and reassurance, but allow your child to fall asleep independently.
The key to a good sleeper is establishing healthy sleeping habits early on.
School Age Kids
This is a time when many sleep problems begin to appear. School Age kids need 10 to 11 hours sleep a night but, because of things like homework, sports, after school activities, mobile devices, TVs, computers and busy family schedules many kids do not get the sleep they need; this can make them hyperactive, irritable and/or have trouble paying attention in school.
For school age kids it is very important to have a consistent bed time with enough quiet, technology free time before bed so they can unwind and relax. Keep TVs, computers, mobile devices and other electronics out of the bedroom and be sure that all electronics are turned off at least an hour before bed.
Most teens need around 9 hours sleep per night which can be very difficult to achieve. Between school, homework, friends and other activities many of our teens are chronically sleep deprived.
Sleep deprivation can add up fast. One hour less sleep per night accumulates to almost a full night’s sleep by the end of the week, this can lead to:
- Attention problems
- Performance problems
- Short-term memory loss
- Delayed response times
These can further lead to:
- Problems in school
- Anger problems
- Abuse of energy drinks and other stimulants to try and stay awake
- A higher rate of accidents and injuries
A lot of teens undergo sleep pattern changes – they like to stay up late, this often leads to them trying to catch up on sleep over the weekend which is very destructive to a healthy, week day, sleeping pattern.
For a good healthy sleep teens should go to bed at the same time every night and allow their wake up time to be 9 hours later
Establish Bedtime Routines
No matter how old your child is it is important to establish a good bedtime routine allowing the average sleep time needed for their age and at least 30 minutes wind downtime before bed, this will help them relax and sleep better.
Remember to turn off all electronics and use the bedroom for sleeping only.