Good night, sleep tight!

A good night’s sleep can be linked to physical, mental, emotional and social health for children.

Healthy sleep allows for optimal functioning. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Healthy sleep allows for optimal functioning. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Sleep is every bit as important as food, water, shelter and love when it comes to raising healthy kids. According to Michigan State University Extension, the busy lifestyle of families today make having a regular schedule for naptime and bedtime a dream instead of a reality. How much sleep is enough? How little is too little? How important is a good night’s sleep?

Most parents and caregivers have stressed over the sleep habits of children in their care. According to a July 2014 Child Trends article children today are not getting less sleep than their ancestors did. There is no hard and fast rule for how much sleep children actually need. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, preschool aged children should have a sleep range of 11-12 hours of sleep a day including naps and nighttime. Each child is unique and will require different amounts of sleep depending on his age and activity level; there is no ‘magic number’ of hours required.

In the book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” author Marc Weissbluth, M.D., provides this insight.

"Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain's battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time.”

MSU Extension recommends several ways that you can assist your child in getting a good night’s sleep.

  • Develop a bedtime routine. Try to get a bedtime schedule in place and stick to it whenever possible. Let your children have input into the routine. Discuss all of the things they should do before they actually crawl into bed; brush teeth, get pajamas on, read a story or say a prayer. Let your child assist in making a bedtime routine chart. The child can determine in which order the items are completed. Keep a consistent bedtime whenever possible.
  • Limit distractions in a child’s room. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television, computers or video games in a child’s bedroom; a screen-free zone. Mohsin Maqbool, M.D., Director of the Pediatric Neurology Sleep Center and staff at Detroit Medical Center Children’s Hospital of Michigan recommends a cool, quiet and comfortable room.
  • Transition to calm activities before bedtime. Avoid activities that are highly stimulating to children; video games, active play or television. Instead substitute reading, cuddling or just talking about the day.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine. Sodas and chocolate may have levels of caffeine that can affect sleep through shallow breathing, delayed sleep or sleep interruptions. Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. Some medications may also interfere with quality sleep.
  • Include naps in the daily schedule. Research shows that naps can assist memory and help with learning in preschool children according to an article published by the National Institute of Health. Important physical and mental development occurs in early childhood, and naps provide downtime for growth. Naps can also assist in keeping children from becoming too tired, which can affect their moods and may make it harder for them to fall asleep at night. Naptime can give a harried parent respite during the day to tend to their own physical and mental health through relaxation or time to catch up with routine chores.

Healthy sleep allows for optimal functioning. Improper sleep or sleep deprivation can have very serious consequences for a child. Sleep difficulties occur at night but affect the daytime activities of your family. Children with sleep difficulties are less attentive, less mentally alert, fussy and easily distracted. If your child is experiencing difficulty falling, or staying, asleep you should talk with your family physician. Healthy sleep will make for a more sociable, happy and healthier child!

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