Did you know that a typical kindergartener needs eleven hours of sleep to be considered well-rested? Or that a typical middle schooler needs nine or ten and a high schooler needs eight or nine?
Getting that amount of sleep every night may seem impossible given the busy schedules that children keep – with homework, sports, and other extracurricular demands, it can feel as if there’s barely enough time for dinner, let alone sleep! But numerous studies suggest that insufficient sleep can have a significant impact on your child’s ability to learn, so much so that even an hour less than the average nightly requirement can mean the difference between whether they struggle, get by, or excel. Here’s why the right amount of sleep is so important.
Your child’s body and brain need adequate sleep for them to:
- Process and remember what they learn
- Organize their thoughts
- Predict outcomes
- Work efficiently
- Think in abstract terms
- Be creative
- React quickly
- Control impulses and regulate emotions
If you notice the following, your child may not be getting enough sleep:
- You child wakes with difficulty
- Your child is crabby, irritable, or prone to emotional outbursts (I know – those are hallmarks of tween and teen behavior, but they’re also symptoms of sleep deprivation!)
- Your child has trouble focusing in class
- Your child is hyperactive or impulsive
- Your child falls asleep in class or on the ride home from school
- Your child is clumsy or accident prone
- Your child “crashes” on the weekends
If your child exhibits any of the above behaviors, take a close look at their habits. If they’re getting less than the ideal amount for their age, do your best to help them get more. An extra hour or two of sleep can have a huge impact on how well your child copes with the rigors of a typical school day.
Here are 6 ways to help your child feel rested and ready to learn:
1. Know how much sleep your child needs. A typical kindergartener or first grader needs approximately 11 hours of sleep per night. By third grade, the average is 10 hours, and by middle school, the average is 9.5 hours. A high school freshman still needs 9 hours, and a senior, 8.5 hours. These are averages, but most children don’t veer too far from the average requirement. Don’t assume your child needs less than the average amount of sleep – the percentage of children who actually need less is very small.
2. Establish a regular, age-appropriate bedtime. Your child should go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day, even on weekends. Variations of more than one hour can disrupt your child’s internal clock and interfere with the quality of their sleep. Count backward to find the ideal time – if they need to be up by 7:00 a.m. and require 11 hours of sleep, they should be asleep by 8:00 p.m. Children typically take 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep, so that would mean lights out by 7:45 p.m.
3. Create a sleep-friendly environment. Make sure your child’s room is cool, dark, and quiet. 68 to 72 degrees is the ideal temperature for sleeping, and a 4-watt night light is the maximum amount of light for children that don’t like total darkness. Consider a white noise machine to block out unwanted sounds that may keep them from falling asleep easily or disrupt their sleep throughout the night.
4. Keep televisions, computers, and other electronics out of their bedroom. Electronic devices aren’t just a distraction – the light they produce shuts off the body’s melatonin production, the hormone that helps us sleep. Ideally, your child should be screen-free for one hour before bedtime (and so should you!).
5. Set limits and enforce them. If your child stalls and negotiates at bedtime, have a set time for lights out and stick to it. If your child is younger, be clear about how many books you’ll read, how many tuck in’s you’ll give, how many hugs, etc.
6. Avoid caffeine. This may seem obvious, but consuming caffeinated beverages, energy drinks, and chocolate can make it difficult to fall asleep. On the other hand, bedtime snacks like yogurt, milk, eggs, or cheese promote sleep. So do whole grain, low sugar cereals. Other sleep-friendly snacks include almonds and bananas – they’re an excellent magnesium source, which relaxes muscles and promotes sleep.
If your child has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, snores, mouth breathes, or appears excessively sleepy during the day, check with your physician to rule out underlying medical conditions that may be affecting their sleep.