Last month, we discussed sleep for the newborn, infant and toddler. No doubt, every baby in the St. Louis area is now sleeping soundly through the night, and parents are well rested and refreshed, right? But what about those with older kids?
Preschoolers usually sleep about 10 to 12 hours nightly. Many will take daily naps through the age of 4 or 5, while others will stop napping by the age of 4. Difficulty falling asleep still is common. Imaginative thought is more prevalent, so dreams (good and bad) can interfere with sleep. Sleep disturbances such as sleepwalking and night terrors also can begin around this age.
Night terrors are different than nightmares. Nightmares are bad dreams from which you can arouse your child and comfort him. Night terrors are a sleep disturbance from which it’s difficult or impossible to arouse the child. Night terrors are thought to be related to a sleep-rhythm disorder. If your child has night terrors, they often occur at the same time nightly or at the same interval after sleep begins. If you notice this pattern, try waking your child at a time before you expect the night terror to occur. Get him right back to sleep and see if you can interrupt the pattern. Preschoolers, like toddlers, benefit from a routine or nighttime ritual. It’s beneficial for your child to sleep in the same environment nightly.
Children of elementary school age (5 to 12) need about 10 hours of sleep nightly. Demands on their time, such as homework, sports and after-school activities, can interfere with bedtime and sleep. Electronic media stimulation (watching TV, as well as time spent on the computer, phone and video games) can all interfere with sleep and should be controlled. Many kids this age begin to consume drinks with caffeine, so this intake should be monitored and limited. Sleep can be aided by keeping the TV out of the bedroom, eliminating caffeine at/after dinner time and providing a dark, quiet room for sleep.
Many teens experience sleep disturbances and are chronically sleep-deprived. This can affect school and extra-curricular performance, as well as social interaction. Some teens with school problems or depression symptoms are actually sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation adds up: An hour missed every night turns into almost a night missed by the weekend. This is why your adolescent sleeps until noon on Saturday. Sleep deprivation also is dangerous. More than half of all asleep-at-the-wheel accidents involve teenagers. Some sleep-deprived teens seek stimulants or other drugs to overcome the symptoms.
You and your teen should understand that it’s natural for them to develop a sleep rhythm, which makes it more challenging to fall asleep at night and more difficult to wake in the morning. Don’t fight Mother Nature. Recognize this natural change in the sleep cycle and follow these guidelines:
- Avoid caffeine
- Avoid extra stimulation in the hours before trying to fall asleep
- Maintain a quiet, dark, temperature-controlled bedroom
- Realize that teens need eight to nine hours of sleep nightly, and build this time into the day.
Now that we’ve covered all ages, here’s wishing you and your family a good night’s sleep!
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.