Just like nutrition and exercise, sleep is key to kids’ good health.
Healthy sleep habits not only help your child be alert during the day — they can also set her up for a healthier life. There is a link between poor sleep and health problems, says Shelly Weiss, director of the Sleep/Neurology Clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
In fact, inadequate slumber is linked to diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and immune and cardiovascular problems, says Weiss. Additionally, chronically sleep-deprived children tend to weigh more than their well-rested counterparts, says Dr. Reshma Amin, assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of respiratory medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children. “Children need to be well rested to develop and grow and live good quality lives,” she says
How much is enough?
Children five to 12 years old need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per day. That number decreases a little in the teen years, to a range estimated between 8.5 and 10 hours. But kids are not hitting these numbers. According to the Canadian Sleep Society, 40 per cent of young children are sleep deprived and 60 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds do not get enough sleep.
Signs of sleepiness
Weiss points out that these numbers are guidelines; some children may need more. Signs of sleep deficiency include trouble focusing and paying attention, irritability and lack of energy. Paradoxically, kids who are overtired may have an overabundance of energy and act hyper.
If your child regularly snores, talk to your doctor about sleep apnea, a partial closure of the upper airway that, in addition to disrupting sleep, can lead to heart dysfunction and high blood pressure. It is more common in obese children, says Dr. Amin.
What to do
Since quantity and quality are both key factors to healthy sleep, it’s important to set your child up for a good night’s sleep. Dr. Weiss offers these tips:
- Keep kids away from caffeine
- Set the same sleep and wake times seven days a week
- Limit exercise before bedtime, which can get kids stimulated and hard to settle
- Eat meals at regular times
- Lower lights and turn off screens an hour before bedtime
- Do not allow electronics in bedrooms