Getting younger members of the family to bed when the sun is still shining can be a real challenge. Even with the best blackout curtains, they seem to know it’s not really the end of the day – and are likely to appear for ‘a drink’, ‘a funny dream’ or a mislaid fluffy toy. As they get older the excuses get more creative!
So how much sleep do kids really need?
Once they go to school, the afternoon nap can’t make up their hours of sleep and the right amount of sleep can have an effect on some surprising issues. Did you know that shortage of sleep can lead to weight gain? Given all the health advice we get these days – that one doesn’t often raise its head! This can be due to sugary snacks to get an energy boost when children get tired.
Not enough sleep can affect physical health and emotional health – children can get stressed and too few hours of zzzzzz often result in stress. Concentration suffers and kids get grouchy and bad-tempered.
Bedtime depends on getting-up time so here’s the wisdom on how many hours sleep your child needs:
- 3-6 years old 10-12 hours actually asleep.
- 7-12 year olds need 10-11 hours.
- Teenagers need 9 hours – they’re still growing (but that doesn’t explain how they seem to be able to sleep all day at the weekend!)
As a parent, ordering children off to bed when they can’t see the point can make you unpopular, but stick with it and establish the routine.
This doesn’t mean you can never let them stay up late for special occasions, but only for special events – not just to watch a TV programme.
If your children wake up earlier than you’d like – try getting them to bed earlier. It sounds counter-intuitive, but children who go to bed later often wake up early too – and suffer from sleep deprivation, with all the associated symptoms – and a grumpy child is not fun to have around.
Most children take around 15 minutes to get to sleep, but there are things you can do to encourage them to nod off easily.
- Keep the bedroom cool and quiet. If there are older children in the household teach them consideration for their younger brothers or sisters. Quiet activities only in the evening – no loud music or shouty phone conversations.
- Get blinds or curtains (or both) that block as much light out as possible, so light summer nights or streetlights don’t disturb the sleeping child.
- Ban all caffeinated drinks for four hours before bedtime – coffee and colas of course, but check the labels of any soft drinks in the house too.
- No screens in the bedroom – that includes TVs, laptops, PCs, tablets and mobiles. They give off a blue light that inhibits sleep. That also means it’s best if your child doesn’t use them for the hour before bed – which could be a challenge for older children, but it does make a significant difference to the speed of falling asleep.
Get your children into a routine. It might start with a warm bath for smaller children, along with getting the nightly teeth brushing habit.
Storytime is a wonderful way to get children to appreciate books, with all kinds of benefits for both children and parents. It’s great 1-2-1 time and listening to a loved voice telling a story is an excellent way to get younger children off to sleep, feeling safe and secure. This becomes a learned habit so, even when they’re old enough to read their own books, the story at bedtime is associated with safety, security and sleep!
Although it’s tempting to relax the rules during school holidays, the child still needs the same amount of sleep – whether they’re going to school or not. It’s best to stick to the routine.