Parenting • Nov 05, 2012

Sleep your way to better health


One Amazingly Simple Step to Reducing Injuries in Children, Decreasing Obesity Rates, Improving Social Success and Increasing School Performance: Sleep!

Recently my son was invited to a sleep over with one of his closest friends. I have terrific memories of sleep overs as a child, so as always, I agreed. I also went into mommy-planning mode. She and I are good friends but differ in our parenting views and beliefs about sleep. I knew the kids would play late and she would wake them very early. So, we made a plan. She would call me when she woke up and before she woke the kids. The next day, she called. I drove over, carried my very heavy, half-asleep son to the car, wrapped him in a blanket then put him back to bed at our house where he and his sisters slept an additional 2 hours. Why the crazy mommy routine? Because as a Mom Doc I know sleep overs are great for social skills and sleep deprivation is literally dangerous for the growing child.

The stakes are high. Strong evidence shows that lack of sleep makes the brain and body work poorly.  A large number of studies have demonstrated associations between insufficient sleep and poor health outcomes in children and teens. These include higher rates of accidental injuries, increased obesity risk, reduced cardiovascular health, and increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts as well as increased rates of motor vehicle accidents in teen drivers.

Many other studies have shown the negative outcomes of sleep restriction and the positive impact of sleep extension on school performance:

  • The scientific literature shows that children and adolescents experience better learning and academic success and greater physical and mental health when their sleep is protected and they routinely receive the recommended amount of sleep.
  • When sleep is lacking, children’s ability to problem solve in social situations is negatively impacted, such that children regularly lacking in sleep have poorer social “intelligence” than peers receiving adequate sleep.
  • High school students with high academic achievement get an average of 30 min more sleep per night than students with lower performance.

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? And, how do you help your children get the sleep they need?

If you have to use a megaphone and a bucket of ice to get your teen out of bed in the morning, she isn’t getting enough sleep.

Here are the average hours needed by age:

Age Hours of Sleep Needed
1-4 Weeks Old 15 – 16
1-12  Months Old 14 – 15
1-3   Years Old 12 – 14
3-6   Years Old 10 – 12
7-12 Years Old 10 – 11
12-18 Years Old 8 – 9
Adults 7-8.5


Use this table as a starting point.

Children who are getting enough sleep wake on their own, are alert and not irritable.

Five Steps to Sleep Success:

1. Bedtime Routine:

If you start when your child is an infant, most families find the 4B’s work well: bath, book, breast/bottle, and then bed. The goal is to repeat the same steps each night so the child’s mind and body can slow down and transition to sleep. As they get older, reading aloud as a family or allowing your teen to read 30 min in bed works.

2. White Noise:

Having a white noise machine or fan to create a sound barrier helps children fall asleep and stay asleep. Playing classical music at the start of sleep is ok, but that music should not play all night, nor should a child be allowed to sleep with a TV or radio playing. These “back ground noises”  keep the brain alert throughout the night and lead to poor sleep quality.

The brain transitions to a lighter sleep an hour or two before the body has had sufficient sleep. If your child hears talking or other activity, he may wake before he has had enough sleep. Having white noise in the bedroom prevents this from occurring.

3. Night Night Tool Kit

Once children are in bed, keeping them there is important to acquiring enough sleep. Prepare for real needs or excuses. Children over 3 can have a box of tissues, a flashlight that turns itself off when the handle is no longer squeezed, and a sippy cup of water. This allows them to take care of their needs should they wake or before falling asleep so they don’t get out of bed and come to find you. Often once they are out of bed; it is difficult to get them back to sleep again.

4. Limit Late Night Activities

Extracurricular activities that end around the child’s bedtime derail good sleep habits. Advocate at school and in sports for practice times that end early enough to allow children sufficient time to transition to sleep.

We sometimes forget that little growing minds live in a body — a human body. “Those bodies need restorative sleep, nourishing food, stable blood sugar, exercise, and time for connection, reflection, and community. They are basic needs, not options, for optimal health” Dr. Patrician Fitzgerald in her article, Healing the Healer: You are Forgiven, Now Get Some Sleep.