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Make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep.

We all need adequate sleep. Sleep helps adults repair and rejuvenate, but it’s especially important for children as the healing powers of sleep directly impact both physical and mental development. So what can you as a parent do?

If your child isn’t sleeping well, you may be wondering, “Should the room be darker? Is he eating too much sugar? Is she not getting enough physical activity?” Those are all valid concerns, but there also might be less obvious underlying causes.

How much is enough?

First, let’s cover how much sleep your child should get, based on age. The National Sleep Foundation offers the following guidelines:

  • Newborns 0 to 3 months: 10.5 to 18 hours per day on an irregular schedule.
  • Infants 4 to 11 months: 9 to 12 hours per night plus frequent naps during the day.
  • Toddlers and preschoolers 1 to 5 years: 11 to 14 hours per night, including some napping.
  • School-aged 6 to 13 years: 9 to 11 hours per night with no daytime napping.

Causes of sleeplessness.

While the environment (darkness, quiet, comfortable temperature and bedding) plays a role in getting a good night’s sleep, it doesn’t account for every cause. In infants, increased motor development may be the culprit. With toddlers and preschoolers, the drive for independence and enhanced imagination may lead to sleep resistance and/or nightmares. School-aged children face social and performance pressures, including homework and study, and become more actively engaged in TV and computers, keeping the mind in an activated state.

These are all very common causes of sleep disruption, however, some kids may have a medical condition that’s keeping them up at night. Night blindness may actually require more light in the bedroom, as well as a lit path to the bathroom. Breathing problems, including sleep apnea, allergies, and asthma, make it difficult to sleep comfortably for any length of time. Growing pains may also cause irritability, night tremors, and anxiety.

What you can do.

All advice may not work for every family. It’s okay to find your own techniques; the key is to remain consistent. Having said that, there are a few basic things you should consider:

  • Put babies and infants to bed when they’re drowsy, not already asleep. This will help them learn to put themselves to sleep.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Avoid sugar, caffeine, and napping too close to bedtime.
  • Keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom.

If these tips don’t seem to be working, see your family physician. Some conditions, such as breathing problems, are easily treated. Most importantly, talk to your kids about how they’re sleeping; you may be surprised at what they tell you. You might never guess that the placement of a certain toy or piece of furniture is casting a shadow that looks just like the “boogeyman.”  

Also feel free to check out Sleep for Kids, a fun and fact-filled site created by the National Sleep Foundation just for kids.

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