As a child and adolescent counselor, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “how much sleep does my child need?” That’s a great question and one that isn’t easily answered via a quick Google search. There isn’t a definitive answer, and most articles suggest you should put your children down when they hit their natural low in the evening. But the problems is that children will fight to stay awake. Because we need sleep for our physical and emotional well-being, it’s important your child is getting the adequate amount of Zzzzs.
So, how much sleep does my child actually need?
Believe it or not, your children between ages 5 to 12 need, on average, 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night. However, one thing to consider is children have unique needs that impact this average. If your child is taking advanced classes, plays sports, suffers from behavioral or emotional problems, or is under high levels of stress, he or she will often need more sleep. If your child has to wake up early for practice, or just can’t get this recommended amount of nightly sleep, be sure to build in time during the day for rest.
My child fights me on the bedtime, what can I do?
It’s natural for children to want to stay up and play, however you are the parent. Setting a consistent schedule with your children will help them develop a routine, making it less likely they will continue to push their bedtime. Pay attention to your children’s habits to determine when they should be going to bed or set their bedtime for 11 hours before they need to wake up. Having a set bedtime with a nightly routine – such as a light snack, bath, brushing teeth, and a bedtime story – can help your children start to fall into a natural rhythm.
I keep hearing things about limiting screen time before bed, is this true?
Absolutely, yes! Screen time is no good for your child right before bed. Exposure to screens, specifically the light, suppresses the release of melatonin. The story line, flashing lights, and colors keep our brain actively engaged when it should be slowing down. Because the release of melatonin is delayed, it takes children – and adults – longer to fall asleep. So, opposed to watching a TV show with your children or allowing them to continue playing a game of their phone, computer, or Xbox, encourage them to engage in a relaxing activity such as reading or deep breathing.
My child is still having trouble sleeping, now what?
Stress and anxiety can also impact your child’s sleeping patterns. If you are noticing your child has been groggy for the last few days, check in with him. She might have a test at school she’s worried about or he may have an issue with a friend or teacher. Create space for your children to share their concerns with you. Helping them problem solve won’t keep them lying awake at night fixating on the issue.
Whether or not your child is having issues with his or her sleeping patterns, these techniques can be utilized to help your child fall asleep faster and get the snooze time that is necessary for physical and emotional development. While we might think sleep is only important for mood and behavior regulation, research suggests our brain needs restful periods to consolidate short-term memories into long-term memories, helping us retain vital information. Thus, it might just be helpful to move up the bedtime if your child has a test the next day.
Lori Dougherty is a Marriage and Family Counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. As a child and family counselor, she helps families navigate the many difficulties that can arise. Through art, play, and parent coaching, she helps families rebuild their bond so they can feel like a family again.