You’ve heard it before – sleep plays an integral role in our overall health. This is especially true for kids, but unfortunately, counting sheep isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
To help bring on the ZZZs for your children, our sleep experts Susan Crane, PsyD, and Stacey L. Simon, PhD, have answered the top seven questions they receive about children’s sleep.
1. Does it help to use white noise or sounds during sleep?
- Using sounds during the night can often improve sleep because sounds in the bedroom can keep out other noises that might accidentally wake children up. It can also be relaxing to have some comforting sounds to associate with sleep.
- Some examples of helpful sounds include: “white noise” (from a sound machine or app), fans, music or nature sounds. The sounds should not change too much in volume, so be cautious if you use the radio, as it can get louder during commercials. Even classical music can have dramatic changes in volume. The sounds should run all night, so they can help children fall back to sleep during natural awakenings throughout the night.
2. Will children become dependent on the sound machines and/or white noise?
The goal is to associate sounds with sleep. In that way, children may become “dependent” on the sounds. These sounds, though, can also be used when travelling or sleeping away from home, so it actually helps children sleep in new settings that otherwise may disrupt sleep.
3. Is there anything a parent can do to help their child be a better sleeper?
- Keep the same bedtimes and wake-up times every day, even on weekends.
- Stop electronics (TV, iPad, video games, cell phones) at least one hour before bed.
- Follow a bedtime routine. Some ideas to include in a bedtime routine for younger children: bath, looking at picture books, reading aloud or singing songs. For older kids, try reading, listening to music, journaling or relaxation exercises. Whatever you choose, it is helpful to do the same things in the same order every night.
- We advise that you avoid giving your child caffeine (including from energy drinks) at all times, especially at least eight hours before bed.
- Ensure your child gets at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity each day.
4. Should I lay down with my child to help him or her fall asleep?
- Generally, no. Some families prefer to sleep all together in a family bed. However, many families would like their child to be able to fall asleep on their own and sleep in their own bed all night.
- If children are not able to fall asleep on their own at bedtime, they will have difficulties returning to sleep during natural wakings in the middle of the night. That is when they cry or show up at your bed in the middle of the night. Children who learn the skills to fall asleep by themselves at the start of the night can then use these same skills to fall back to sleep on their own in the middle of the night. Infants over four months should be able to sleep through the night.
- If falling asleep independently is a challenge for your child, working with a sleep psychologist to make a plan to gradually teach this skill can be very helpful. We also have information on how to help infant night criers sleep through the night.
5. What is the recommended amount of sleep for children of different ages?
The ideal amount of sleep for children varies by age. The recommended ranges for number of hours of sleep per night are:
- Infants (<1 year): 11-18 hours, including naps
- 1-3 years: 12-14 hours, including naps
- 3-5 years: 11-13 hours, including naps
- 6-12 years: 10-11 hours per night
- 13-18 years: 8.5-9.5 hours per night
6. Is it true that some people just need fewer hours of sleep to function?
It is very rare that people need fewer hours of sleep. Most children will have optimal development if they regularly get at least the minimum amount of recommended sleep. Chronically getting insufficient sleep is associated with many health and behavior problems, including obesity, difficulties with attention and concentration, and mood problems.
7. As a parent, when should I be concerned about my child’s sleep?
- Observe whether your child’s daytime functioning is concerning – they appear sleepy or too “hyper” during the day, have difficulties paying attention in school, or have problems regulating their moods.
- Consider whether your child is regularly getting less than the recommended amount of sleep for their age.
- Evaluate any medical problems that may be contributing to poor sleep (such as regular snoring or obstructive sleep apnea) and address any challenges that are preventing your child from getting a good night’s sleep.
Susan Crane, Psy.D. and Stacey L. Simon, Ph.D. are sleep psychologists in the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado. They specialize in working with families and children of all ages to improve sleep. The sleep clinic is held at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora and the South Campus in Highlands Ranch.
The sleep team experts at Children’s Colorado can help with any sleep concerns. To schedule an appointment, please call: 720-777-6181.