As parents, we always hope our children will be in the best possible state to learn, play and grow. We all know that healthy eating is important, exercise is important, as well as having a good learning environment and supportive social environment. In addition to this, good sleep hygiene is vital.(1) New research shows that poor sleep habits in early years can even affect the learning capacity and behaviours of our children later.(2)
One of the major problems with all of us and our sleep patterns is artificial light, particularly blue light from our devices. I’m sure cavemen didn’t have trouble sleeping: it got dark, they went to sleep, in light they would wake up. A naturally occurring hormone called melatonin rises when there is no light stimulation, and this helps us drift off to sleep. With light constantly in our eyes, it doesn’t have a chance to rise! Limiting screen time before bed can help with sleep (this also applies to adults!).
How much sleep do our kids need?
The amount of sleep a child needs is as individual as the child.
A preschooler needs 10-12 hours sleep, and a school aged child needs between eight and twelve hours.(3) Generally speaking, a child that is sleeping well is learning and growing well, and not sleepy during the day.
What can we do to help improve sleep:1
- Set a regular bedtime and consistent routine
- Keep the bedroom dark and quiet
- Avoid caffeine-containing foods and drinks after lunchtime
- Limit screen time and use of technology before bedtime
- Ensure a regular morning wake time and allow natural light in the bedroom early in the morning
Drastically changing bedtime can cause problems too; it’s best to move bedtime by no more than 15 minutes each night to give the circadian rhythms time to adjust. Keep a diary, as it can be hard to keep track.(4)
Although poor sleep in children is most often related to routine and behaviours, there are some sleep disorders that need medical attention. If you have any concerns about your child’s sleep, or any other health concerns, please make an appointment to speak with your family doctor.
- Hannan K. Australian Family Physician. 2015; 44:880-883.
- Taveras et al. Acad Pediatr. 2017 Feb 8.
- The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. The Complete Parenting Guide. 2005. Focus Publishing.
- The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Sleep diary. 2017. Available online: http://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/clinicalguide/infantdiary.pdf
The advice provided on healthykid.com.au is of a general nature and in no way should replace your therapeutic relationship with your doctor