Most parents have experienced it—the dreaded bedtime battle. As soon as donning pajamas is mentioned, kids dig in their heels and arm themselves with a bevy of excuses to avoid slumber. But experts say that battle-weary parents should not give in, because sleep is crucial to a child’s well-being.
Sleep (or the lack of it) greatly impacts children mentally and physically, says Tamara Zach, MD, a Banner Children’s neurologist in Glendale. “Eighty percent of the time, if you improve sleep, you improve behaviors and learning. Children are calmer and less irritable. Sleep is something we don’t think about much, but we should,” she offered.
Needing shut eye
During sleep, short-term memories consolidate. It’s a way for the brain to store data and retain information. Without enough sleep, this critical filing can’t occur and memory could be compromised during waking hours. In addition, motor skills and the immune system can also see negative impacts.
“Most of my patients, within five to 10 minutes, I can tell if they have good sleep habits,” she added.
Sleep also allows toxins to flush from the brain. A growing sleep debt plus genetic predisposition can possible lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia later in life, Zach said.
So how much sleep does your child need?
Walter Castro, MD, a Banner Children’s sleep medicine specialists, offers the following breakdown by age:
- 16–20 hours a day
- 9–12 hours/night
- 1–4 naps (2-5 hours long)
- 12–13 hours/night
- 1–2 naps
- 11–12 hours/night
- 10–11 hours/night
- No naps
- 9–9.5 hours/night
Castro encourages parents to look for signs their child may need to see a specialist. “If a child from six to 12 years of age requires a nap, that would be considered abnormal, and required an evaluation. A sleepy teenager might also need to see a specialist,” he added.
Both doctors highlight the importance of an effective bedtime routine. They offer the following recommendations:
- GO to bed at the same time each night, if possible.
- Stop physical activity (even sports) and electronics two hours before bed.
- Encourage calm activities like reading or a bath before bed.
- To avoid disrupting sleep-onset, keep all electronics (even TVs) out of the bedroom.