A good night sleep is key for kids

Brooks and Hal Deetsch, ages 6 and 3, have a bedtime routine. Starting at 7:30 p.m., they take a bath, brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, have a story read to them, say a prayer, listen to their mother sing a song, then lie down and go to sleep.

“We established a routine with Brooks when he was very young, and that has not changed,” said the boys’ mother, Anne Karrick Deetsch. “Routine has been the key.”

According to Karen Spruyt, Ph.D, pediatric sleep medicine specialist at Kosair Children’s Hospital, the Deetsch family is doing exactly what they should to help kids get the sleep they need. “Establishing an age-appropriate routine and a regular bedtime are the best things you can do for your child,” she said. “Developing regular schedules and routines not only helps the child by getting him or her to relax to actually go to sleep, but creates a sense of security that allows children to sleep better.” 

Lack of sleep – a serious problem

One of the problems facing many kids is that they simply do not get enough sleep. “Just like adults, kids are becoming more sleep-deprived,” said Leila Kheirandish Gozal, M.D., pediatric sleep medicine, Kosair Children’s Hospital. “Lack of sleep can affect things such as performance in school as well as lead to behavioral and even medical problems.”

A recent study published in the journal Sleep reported that children who don’t get the proper amount of sleep are more likely to have weight problems.

“Children ages 5 to 12 need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep a night,” said Dr. Gozal, also a clinical instructor of pediatrics, University of Louisville School of Medicine. “That has become more difficult for many people with all of the demands on their time.”

Dr. Spruyt recommends parents keep track of their child’s individual sleep needs and watch for signs of sleepiness.

Waking up at the wrong times

Graham Miller, 3, was sleeping well at night – at least up until recently when monsters started to haunt his dreams. “He was doing great and now he wakes up calling for me around 4 a.m.,” said Graham’s mother, Brooke Miller. “It’s just heart wrenching.”

According to Dr. Spruyt, also assistant professor of behavioral sleep research and developmental neuropsychology, University of Louisville, this is a normal occurrence for a child of this age. “Preschoolers start to develop active imaginations, and it is common for them to have nightmares,” she said. “The best thing you can do is comfort your child until he or she has calmed down enough to go back to sleep.

“Any time children wake up in the middle of the night or have trouble going to sleep in the first place, don’t bring them into your bed or crawl in their bed with them to cuddle, as that can interfere with their ability to sleep on their own.”

Signs your child is not getting enough sleep

  • Having to wake your child every morning
  • Falling asleep most of the time when in the car
  • Falling asleep earlier than normal bedtime
  • Cranky, irritable, hyperactive, trouble processing and thinking

Sleep recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation

  • 18 months to 3 years: 12 to 14 hours, including a nap
  • 3 to 5 years:  11 to 13 hours, may include a nap
  • 5 to 12 years:  10 to 11 hours
  • Teens:  9.25 hours
  • Newborns generally sleep 10.5 to 18 hours on an irregular schedule, and infants, 9 to 12 hours at night with several 30-minute naps.