Carol HeckmanAsk Carol: How many hours of sleep should my kids get each night? Now that school’s started they are so tired…

Sleep is a major factor in our health and wellness. It’s not only an issue for adults, but sleep is an area of increasing concern for our kids’ wellbeing.

Truly, the business of our current lifestyle puts children’s sleep (routines, quality, and duration) at risk. The back to school transition is a great time to evaluate your children’s sleep patterns and needs.

Benefits of Good Sleep

Adequate sleep positively impacts brain health (e.g., mood and thinking) and overall wellness. Truly, there are so many benefits of a good night’s sleep for children:

  1. Appropriate growth – the growth hormone is primarily secreted at night. Italian researchers found that children who do not sleep deeply have deficient growth hormone levels.
  2. Heart health – Sleep prevents vascular damage from circulating stress hormones. Children with sleep disorders have excessive brain arousal (fight or flight), causing high nighttime blood glucose and cortisol levels, which may lead to diabetes and heart disease.
  3. Weight management – Blood glucose and cortisol levels are also linked to obesity. As well, sleep deprivation affects the hormone leptin, which fat cells create to tell our bodies when we’ve eaten enough to be satisfied. And, like adults, tired kids crave carbs and high fat foods.
  4. Fewer colds and viruses – Sleep helps to build a healthy immune system. As we sleep, the body produces cytokines: proteins that fend off infection, illness, and stress.
  5. Better sports performance and injury reduction – For children involved in sports, lack of sleep, and poor sleep quality, slows muscle growth and repair, decreases endurance, and reduces speed. All opening the door for minor and major injuries.
  6. Improved attention span and learning – For school-age kids, research shows adding just 27 minutes of nightly sleep makes it easier for them to focus, and to manage their moods and impulses. Sufficient sleep also improves learning retention.

Length of Sleep

When we look at sleep for our kids, like adults, how long we sleep is important. It’s recommended that preschool and elementary school children get 10-12 hours a night of sleep, while adolescents and high-schoolers need 9 hours.

Studies by the National Sleep Foundation found one-third of preschoolers, and one-fourth of elementary school-aged children, get less sleep than what is recommended. Sadly, our kids are starting to have sleep deficits at very early ages.

If you’re not sure how much sleep your children are getting, try tracking the time they fall asleep for a week. If they aren’t getting the recommended number of sleep hours, set bedtime an hour or so earlier.

For new information about creating successful bedtime routines, and sleep insights for special needs children, read more…

Bedtime Routines Impact Sleep Quality

A consistent nightly routine is essential.

To maintain a set bedtime each night, consider simplifying your kids’ after-school activity schedules. These may be sabotaging their ability to decompress, after a long day of school, and your ability to develop structure around bedtime.

And, while it may seem obvious, we don’t always think about it… what our kids do before bed impacts how well they’re able to fall asleep and stay asleep. Creating a peaceful atmosphere, every night, is key for a successful bedtime routine:

  • Try having the family unwind in the living room, by listening to guided meditation.
  • A short bath or shower before bed helps to calm the mind and body, setting the mood for a good sleep.
  • For younger children, read an extra story at night; it’s soothing and refocuses thinking.
  • An ‘experience’ of bedtime sounds (e.g., ocean waves or a fan) may help to induce sleep for children of all ages.
  • Keep the temperature and level of light in your child’s room the same every night, even when on vacation.
  • Turn off screens / tech one hour before bedtime and eliminate in-bed screen time. Studies correlate TV, digital media, and social media usage before bedtime with a poor length in the quality of sleep, likely due to screens’ light exposure and its impact of decreasing natural melatonin production.

Removing cellphones from the bedroom will really improve sleep. Many teens leave these turned on in their rooms, getting notifications throughout the night that they often wake up to check. Or, even worse, teens sleep with a phone under their pillow putting EMFs into their brains while they sleep!

Special Needs Children and Sleep

The quality and length of sleep is especially important for special needs children, who often have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Sleep deprivation will make learning and behavioral challenges all the more difficult.

Reporting varies, but Parents magazine states almost two thirds of children with Down syndrome have sleep apnea and up to 80 percent of autistic children have sleep issues, including snoring. Consistent bedtime routines are really crucial here.

As well, Dr. Judith Owens, Director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center, explains: “… the symptoms of sleep-deprivation and ADHD, including impulsivity and distractibility, mirror each other almost exactly.” So, tired children, who don’t have ADHD, may become impulsive and distracted; and those with ADHD will likely experience more severe symptoms when sleep quality / length are insufficient.

Back to School and Year-round Sleep

After a summer of staying up late, and letting other routines slide, it’s important to get nighttime routines on track as soon as possible.

Throughout the year (even during holiday breaks), maintaining sleep hours and routine is vital. One study found symptoms of sleep deprivation occur after just four nights of getting one less hour of sleep per night.

If your child has difficulty falling or staying asleep, snores, or has sleep apnea, bring her/him in for a Nutrition and Functional Health evaluation. It may be a matter of making food and lifestyle changes. If it’s more serious, then we’ll suggest seeking medical specialists.

Sources: Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, Parents.com, and Training Haus


Carol Heckman, RN, CNHP, MH, CNC
Carol is a Registered Nurse, as well as a Certified Natural Health Practitioner, a Master Herbalist, and a Certified Nutritional Consultant.