It’s tough to get children to go to sleep, but a lack of it could seriously be harming their development
We do not talk about children’s mental health enough. Many parents are not aware of how a child’s mental health could be impacting their sleep. Mental health and sleep go hand in hand and are vital for children and their growing minds. A poor night of sleep for a child can make it harder to sit still at school or remember the information they learned that day. The good news is that there are many things you can do to improve your child’s sleep and mental health.
The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
Rachel Dawkins, M.D. of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, explains in a Johns Hopkins article how studies show that children who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health.
The average child has a hectic day between school, running around with friends, after-school sports or activities, and homework. Their little bodies need time to rest and relax after a long day. According to KidsHealth, children ages 5-12 need about 9-12 hours of sleep each night. It’s important to note that not every child is the same, and some may need more sleep than others. Children getting a full night of sleep will help their brain function, help with their physical growth, and build their immune systems.
Effects on Mental Health
Inadequate sleep dramatically impacts a child’s mood and behavior. When you think of a child who appears “overtired”, you picture crying, tantrums, and meltdowns, whereas a child who has gotten all the sleep they need seems happy and ready to take on the world. In one of its blogs, Texas Children’s Hospital explains how chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of mental health problems in children and adolescents. Research has found that persistent sleep problems in preschool and school-aged children increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression as teenagers and adults.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine notes that children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety or mood disorders are more likely to report sleep problems. Poor sleep can lead to aggressive behavior in children, such as fighting with others, yelling, and causing harm to themselves.
What Steps Can You Take?
Occasional sleep problems in children are a part of normal development. Parents should model healthy sleep habits for their children. If you don’t have a solid bedtime routine for yourself, work on making one for the whole family so your child can see the benefits of a nighttime routine. Make some rules like nobody uses electronics 1-2 hours before going to bed, no eating at least 3 hours before going to bed, and do a calming activity 1 hour before bed. Small tips and tricks like those listed can make a massive difference to the whole family’s health.
If you begin to notice chronic sleep issues in your child, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. If you see your child snoring, gasping, or exhibiting difficulty breathing during sleep, they may need screening for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Your healthcare provider may prescribe melatonin or antidepressants if behavioral therapy and modifications to sleep practices are unsuccessful. They will work with you and your child to figure out what is going on and get your child’s sleep on the right track.
The National Sleep Foundation has a great bedtime calculator to identify the appropriate bedtime for your child here.
Children getting the amount of sleep their bodies need will help them feel happier, stronger, and healthier!
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