Nurturing healthy sleep habits in children for lifelong well-being

Good sleep can be linked to children's physical, mental, emotional and social health.

A child sleeping with a stuffed toy.
Photo: Pixabay.

Sleep is fundamental to a child's well-being, ranking alongside essential needs like food, water, shelter and love. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), preschool-aged children should ideally get between 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day, including naps and nighttime rest. However, each child is unique, with varying sleep requirements influenced by age and activity levels, making it challenging to pinpoint a universal "magic number" of required hours.

Quality sleep is vital to a child's physical and mental development, contributing to overall health and well-being. During sleep, the body undergoes crucial processes such as growth, tissue repair and releasing essential hormones. Sufficient sleep also supports cognitive functions, including memory consolidation and learning.

Children who consistently get the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to exhibit improved attention spans, emotional regulation and academic performance. Furthermore, a well-rested child is better equipped to handle daily challenges, navigate social interactions and maintain a positive mood. Prioritizing healthy sleep habits in childhood establishes a foundation for a lifetime of well-being and resilience.

Practical suggestions from health experts at the Sleep Foundation, aligned with NIH guidelines, include:

  • Developing a bedtime routine. Establish and maintain a bedtime schedule, involving children in the process. Create a routine that includes activities like brushing your teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a story or saying a prayer. Consistency is key, and letting the child contribute to a bedtime routine chart can enhance their sense of control.
  • Limiting distractions. Keep a child's bedroom free of distractions like televisions, computers or video games. A screen-free zone promotes a cool, quiet and comfortable sleep environment.
  • Transitioning to calm activities. Prioritize calming activities before bedtime, avoiding stimulating ones like video games or active play. Substitute with activities such as reading, cuddling or discussing the day, fostering a peaceful transition to sleep.
  • Avoiding caffeine. Steer clear of foods and beverages containing caffeine, such as sodas and chocolate, particularly four to six hours before bedtime. Caffeine intake may lead to shallow breathing, delayed sleep or interruptions. Certain medications should also be monitored for potential sleep disturbances.
  • Including naps. Incorporate naps into the daily schedule, recognizing their positive impact on memory and learning in preschool children. Naps contribute to essential physical and mental development during early childhood, preventing excessive tiredness that could affect mood and nighttime sleep.

Ensuring healthy sleep patterns is crucial for optimal functioning in children. Sleep deprivation can seriously impact a child's attentiveness, mental alertness and overall demeanor. Consulting with a family physician if your child experiences persistent sleep difficulties. Promoting healthy sleep habits ultimately contributes to a child's sociability, happiness and overall well-being.

If you want to learn more about sleep hygiene and find ways to improve your sleep, consider enrolling in Michigan State University Extension's SLEEP (Sleep Education for Everyone Program). SLEEP is a six-week program that offers guidelines to help adults improve sleep hygiene practices, which are behaviors that enhance sleep quality. By improving your sleep habits, you can set a good example for your children.

Did you find this article useful?