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The Importance of Zzzzzzz–Sleep And Naps For Kids

 By Kim Robson

When my husband and I were dating, we used to hang out with friends at a particular coffeehouse. One evening, around 10:00 p.m., a couple we knew strolled by with their newborn. The baby wasn’t more than six months old, and was cranky and squirming in his stroller. My husband asked them, “Isn’t it a bit late for him?” The parents replied, without a trace of irony, “Oh, he’s on OUR schedule.” It took a great deal of restraint on my part not to say, “Oh, how convenient for you!”

Recently, at the Aurora, CO, theater where there was a shooting, a six-year-old was killed and a three-month-old was shot. Their parents had brought them to a midnight showing of a loud, violent movie. Parents justified this by saying it was a “special occasion.”

Sleep is critically important for infants, children, and teenagers. Their brains are still developing, and sleep is the time when synapses and new connections are growing. Sleep deprivation not only inhibits productivity and the ability to remember and store information, but it also leads to serious health consequences and can jeopardize your child’s and others’ safety. Lack of sleep can lead to increased risk of the following issues:

• obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation;
• diabetes and heart problems;
• psychiatric conditions, including depression and substance abuse;
• inability to pay attention, react to signals, or remember new information; and
• compromised mood, performance, and alertness.

Over time, sleep deprivation in youngsters leads to an “erosion of happiness” — an increased risk of depression and other emotional disturbances.

Plenty of sleep is just as vital to health and well-being for teenagers as it is for younger children. Sleep studies have shown repeatedly that the typical teenager cannot fall asleep easily before 11:00 p.m., yet they typically have to get up by 6:00 a.m. to get to school. Once there, it’s not uncommon for them to doze off during class. Even if awake, they’re in no condition to learn much of anything.

In one study, over 90 percent of teenagers reported sleeping fewer than nine hours a night and 10 percent reported sleeping less than six hours. Teenagers are becoming “walking zombies” because their circadian rhythms are set to stay up late into the evening and to wake late in the morning. Their biology says “stay up late” but school schedules say “start early.” Some school districts have adopted later starting times for high school students, and have noted an improvement in grades, a decrease in dropouts, and a reduction in traffic accidents.

Too frequently, kids adapt to their family’s late-night schedule and don’t take naps. Does your child often fall asleep in the car? When so, is it past his/her bedtime or is it the day after having gotten too little sleep? As a result of “going along with the family routine,” he may be shortchanged of sleep. Sleep deprivation manifests as whiny behavior and temper tantrums that the child should have otherwise outgrown.

Children need different amounts of sleep at different ages:

1 – 4 Weeks Old = 15 – 16 hours per day

Newborns typically sleep about 15 to 18 hours a day, but only in short periods of two to four hours. Premature babies may sleep longer and colicky ones shorter. Since newborns do not yet have an internal biological clock, their sleep patterns are not related to daylight and nighttime cycles.

1 – 4 Months Old = 14 – 15 hours per day

By six weeks of age, you may notice more regular sleep patterns emerging in your baby. The longest periods of sleep run four to six hours and sleep now tends to occur more in the evening.

4 – 12 Months Old = 14 – 15 hours per day

While up to 15 hours is ideal, most infants up to 11 months old get only about 12 hours sleep. Establishing healthy sleep habits is a primary goal during this period, as your baby is now much more social, and his sleep patterns are more adult-like. Babies typically need three naps, which decrease to around two at about six months old, at which time they are physically capable of sleeping through the night. As his/her biological rhythms mature, establish regular naps at the latter part of this time frame.

1 – 3 Years Old = 12 – 14 hours per day

Toward 18 to 21 months of age, your child will likely stop his morning nap and nap only once a day. Toddlers need up to 14 hours a day of sleep; unfortunately, they typically get only about 10.

Most children from about 21 to 36 months of age still need one nap a day, which may range from one to three hours long. They typically go to bed between 7 and 9 p.m. and wake up between 6 and 8 a.m.

3 – 6 Years Old = 10 – 12 hours per day

Children at this age typically go to bed between 7 and 9 p.m. and wake up around 6 and 8 a.m., just as they did when they were younger. At three, most children still need naps, while at five, most do not. Naps gradually become shorter as well.

7 – 12 Years Old = 10 – 11 hours per day

At these ages, with social, school, and family activities, bedtimes gradually become later and later, with most 12-year-olds going to bed at about 9 p.m. There is still a wide range of total sleep times, from 9 to 12 hours, although the average is only about 9 hours.

12 – 18 Years Old = 8 – 9 hours per day

Sleep is just as vital to health and well-being for teenagers as when they were younger. Many teenagers actually need more sleep than in younger years. Now, however, social pressures conspire against getting the proper amount and quality of sleep.

Parents of children of ALL ages should identify and set appropriate bedtimes. Teenagers should get light exposure in the morning, and avoid bright light and exciting activities during the evening. Computer, television, tablet, and smart phone screens emit light primarily in the blue spectrum. Blue light inhibits melatonin production, a hormone that induces sleepiness. For an hour before bedtime, turn off all these electronic devices. Families should establish relaxing pre-sleep rituals, like reading bedtime stories, taking a warm bath, meditating, writing in a journal, listening to calming music, and dimming the lights. Good luck, and sweet dreams!




About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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