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Children and Sleep: How Much Do They Need and Why is it Important?

When setting up a nursery, one of the first purchases most parents make is a crib and mattress. There’s something innate about creating a great sleep space for a baby even before he or she is born. Parents know right from the start that it is important. But after a bit of time, less thought is given to sleep. It’s just something to do with the leftover hours of the day, and its importance is downplayed. From infancy until that child reaches adulthood, sleep is an important part of health and development, and parents can be intentional about making sure kids get the rest they need.

How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?

Right from the get go, every child is different. Not just in appearance, personality, strengths, and weaknesses, but in sleep needs too. Just like some adults can get by on 6 hours a night, while others require closer to 10 hours to be their best self, children’s needs vary too. But there are some recommendations given by the National Sleep Foundation to use as a general guideline.

Newborns and sleep. The two words don’t seem to go together, especially if you have one in the house. A typical newborn will sleep anywhere from 10 to 18 hours a day, but broken up into short periods of time. These little ones need to wake often to eat, and it also takes some time for them to get their days and nights worked out. Sometimes it seems to take forever, but most babies have their sleep/wake schedule worked out by the time they are about 3-4 months old.

Toddlers and preschoolers play hard and sleep hard. They still need 12 to 14 hours of sleep every day, and many of them reach that amount by napping for a bit each day.

The elementary years are busy, and children use the daytime hours learning and playing. In addition to school, these children are involved in extra-curriculars, figuring out what sports and activities they enjoy and excel in. Children this age need 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night.

Teenagers may be the most sleep-deprived age group on the planet. They tend to stay up very late at night, but since most still need to get up early for school in the morning, many don’t get the recommended 9 hours of sleep each night for this age group. Part of their late-night wakefulness is a change in biochemistry. Melatonin levels in children and adults tend to increase earlier in the evening, but teens don’t peak until later, meaning when everyone else is ready for bed, they’re experiencing a burst of energy.

3 Reasons Why Adequate Sleep is Important for All Children

Getting enough sleep is important, for the smallest baby to the senior in high school. Sleep deprivation puts them at risk in 3 main areas.

Development – The first few years a child undergoes major development. A newborn’s brain is about 25 percent of its approximate adult weight. But by age 3, it has grown dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells. Through the elementary school years, children learn to read and write, basic mathematical functions, and hone motor skills that will enable them to do things like play sports, learn an instrument, or become an accomplished artist or dancer. Brain development continues through the teen years, with them learning more higher-order thinking and processing skills that will allow them to progress and continue on in higher education. Within any of these age groups, a lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on growth and development.

Health – Children who don’t get enough sleep are put at risk for a variety of health issues. Lack of sleep makes immune systems less effective, meaning children will have a tendency to catch more illnesses. Viruses and infections aren’t fun for children or parents. Whether you have a baby at risk for RSV, a child with meningitis, or a teen with mononucleosis, these types of illnesses can be serious and result in not only a hospital stay, but a long recovery. A recent study by the University of Warwick Medical School also found that children who slept less are at risk for obesity. Since obesity can lead to other serious health issues such as diabetes, cardiac, and respiratory health, it is important to not underestimate the importance of sleep and physical well-being.

Behavior – As adults, we can recognize the fact that sometimes we’re not ourselves when we haven’t gotten enough sleep, but that same feeling applies to babies, children, and teens too. They may be more disagreeable, hyperactive, display mood swings, or opposition to authority. Older children and teens may start struggling academically, because lack of sleep will result in decreased attention and memory loss, which makes it hard to do their best in school.

The good news, is there’s a simple solution if parents are concerned about any of these problems. Simply taking steps to encourage a good night’s sleep will make a marked difference in many areas.

Some things parents can do are:

Enforce a bedtime, even for teens – Children often won’t willingly go to sleep, but if they’re tired and in bed, chances are they will nod off.

Make a bedtime routine – Kids who do the same thing every night before bed send a message to the body that it’s time to start winding down. For many younger kids, a small snack, brushing teeth, and a story lead up to a good night’s sleep.

Create an environment conducive to sleep – A room that is cool, dark, and quiet will encourage children and teens to fall asleep faster.

Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime – These devices have the ability to alter circadian rhythms, making it hard to fall asleep. Phones and tablets are big issues, and experts recommend removing televisions from children’s bedrooms.

Limit caffeine – This is especially important for teens who tend to favor soda, coffee, and energy drinks. These beverages can make falling asleep even more challenging, and result in a child who struggles the next day with learning and behavior.

Make a quality mattress a priority – Kids and teens are often given the household hand-me-downs when it comes to bedding. But an older, worn-out mattress won’t provide the support and comfort a child needs for quality rest. They may have a hard time falling asleep, or may wake up often during the night. Older mattresses may also harbor dust and dust mites, which can cause allergy and asthma issues in children. An investment in a quality mattress is an investment in a child’s health.

On another note, many mattresses are made from materials that contain a high level of pesticides and chemicals to meet flame-retardant requirements. These can pose health risks to children and teens. Parents who are making an effort to provide a safe sleeping environment for their children can look into mattresses made of natural materials to encourage healthy rest for all ages.

Urban Mattress cares about more than just your bedding. We care about your children and your community and want the best for both. In addition to providing natural, safe mattresses for children, we donate a portion of every purchase to charitable partners that make your community a better place, many of which help children and their families. For more information, please contact your local Urban Mattress store.