You are probably familiar with the adage, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” An early bedtime was much easier to accomplish before the advent of our modern hectic lifestyle and the extension of our day beyond the setting of the sun with electric lights and modern electronics.
As adults, we may find ourselves struggling because of a lack of sleep. When we get tired, we can be grumpy or lack energy. For our children, lack of sleep often has the opposite effect: they can become disagreeable, hyperactive, and experience extreme behavior. Because of the different behavior associated with sleep deprivation in our child, we sometimes do not immediately recognize that their behavior is related to a lack of sleep.
Sleep allows the mind and body to rest and recharge. The child with sufficient sleep has an increased attention span and is more relaxed physically and emotionally. In fact, a regular sleep schedule provides a foundation for physical and mental health. This is especially true for children during their formative years. A statistical study completed at University College in London on children three, five and seven revealed that children without a set bedtime throughout their early childhood experienced increased hyperactivity, more behavior problems, conflicts with their peers, and emotional difficulties. Another British study discovered that children given a strict, regular sleeping schedule showed improvements in their conduct and peer relationships. Research has also found that irregular bedtimes cause school-age children to have problems on testing in both reading and math.
To make sure your child gets enough quality sleep time, a regular sleep schedule is crucial. But what is “a regular sleep schedule?”
A regular sleep schedule can be defined as one with a fixed time for both sleeping and napping, with an amount sufficient for the age of your child. The time may vary somewhat for older children, adjusting for time changes, school breaks, and summer vacation. The key is consistency. Children who have the best sleep – sleep that renews and refreshes – have a consistent number of hours each night.
Most children have sleep requirements that fall within a predictable number of hours based on their age. Generally speaking, an infant needs13 to 20 hours of sleep, including naptimes; a toddler 10 to 13 hours (with or without naps); a preschooler 10 to 12 hours per night; school age children need 10 to 12 hours a night; and a teenage 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours a night. However, needs vary and you need to understand the “sleep personality” of your child. Your toddler may need a naptime to get enough hours of sleep. Some children cannot sleep during daylight hours, but respond well to a scheduled “rest” time.
If your child has persistent problems developing a regular sleep schedule, you should check with your pediatrician to make sure there is not an underlying medical sleep disorder. Children can have the same sleep disorders that plague adults – restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea. Once treated, a child will be able to adhere to a regular sleep schedule.
Healthy sleep will provide your child with the ability to function with an alert mind when they are awake. We want our children to be receptive to their environment and able to interact appropriately as they learn from what they observe. A wide-awake child will be looking around, absorbing what they see, and comfortably reacting to others. A regular sleep schedule can help our child calm and attentive.