Children's Hospital Colorado
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Just Ask Children's

The Power of Sleep for Kids

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Kids need a lot of sleep — 8 to 10 hours a night for teens, 9 to 11 for school-aged kids, and 10 to 14 for preschoolers and toddlers. Unfortunately, many kids don’t get as much as they need. And the lack of it can impact weight management, intellectual functioning and, especially, behavior.

“When we’re not well rested, the brain can’t focus or put things into long- or short-term memory — so there’s an attention deficit,” says Susan Crane, Psy.D., a sleep psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “And overtired younger children can get kind of wired, which can look like hyperactivity. Lack of sleep can really mimic symptoms of ADHD.”

How parents can help kids get more sleep

“The main problem I see,” says Dr. Crane, “is that people aren’t in their beds enough. And when they’re in bed, kids should be either sleeping or going to sleep. Keeping screens and phones out of bed, and not using the bed as a hangout, helps kids to associate it with sleep and sleep only, which will help them get to sleep faster and sleep better.

Other factors may contribute as well. For instance, too little exercise and too much light exposure from screens, especially during bedtime, can lead to insomnia or trouble getting to sleep.

Breathing and sleep

Breathing disorders present additional sleep problems for kids.

“Sleep disordered breathing is very common,” says Children’s Colorado pediatric sleep expert Dr. Ann Halbower. “About 12 to 15 percent of kids experience it to some degree. Kids who have severe, noticeable apnea where they stop breathing, that’s about 2 to 5 percent of kids.”

A kid who can’t breathe at night can’t sleep well, and the condition can potentially be dangerous. Aside from overtiredness during the day, Dr. Halbower says, a big indication of some sleep breathing problems in kids is habitual snoring — something kids don’t normally do, since the sagging skin that causes snoring should be tight in kids. If you notice your child frequently snoring, it’s a good idea to get it checked out as soon as possible.

Making sleep time a priority is just as important as a good diet and education. And most of the time, it’s as simple as getting to bed on time.

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