PJ’s Corner: The Importance of Sleep for Children’s Health

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TulsaKids and The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis have partnered to provide parents with information they need to know to keep their children healthy. Look for PJ Panda to find video interviews, PJ’s Corner in TulsaKids Magazine and articles like this one on the web for expert advice on your health questions.

Watch the full video interview with Dr. Lincy Varghese

Do you know how much sleep your child needs? What are the signs and symptoms that your child may not be getting enough sleep? Whether you have an infant, toddler or teen, sleep issues often arise. Dr. Lincy Varghese, a pediatrician with Warren Clinic in Glenpool, says that parents can support children’s healthy sleep habits at every age.

As families get back into the school routine, sleep schedules may need to be adjusted to ensure that children are getting enough sleep. But how much is enough?

“Research does show that children ages 3 to 5 will need about 10-13 hours of sleep daily,” Dr. Varghese says. “And school-age children (first grade through middle school) need 9-11 hours of sleep. For high schoolers, at least 9-10 hours of sleep.”

Children

While every child is different, Dr. Varghese says these amounts are a good general rule of thumb, and that parents can help their children develop good sleep habits from an early age. Just as adults need good sleep routines, children do as well. However, kids have less self-discipline. They may want to stay up late or play video games rather than sleep.

Dr. Varghese recommends getting children to go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends. Start the sleep routine 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime by putting away electronics, brushing teeth, closing curtains, reading or doing whatever it is that will create a peaceful environment for your child.

“I think when you follow a routine when you’re younger, you’re more likely to do so as you get older,” Dr. Varghese says. “[Make] sure the phone is turned off and put away at least an hour before bedtime. That screen with that bright light is not going to help you release these hormones that need to be released in order for you to fall asleep. [Children and teens] need to know that this is part of that biological process. It’s really important to have those electronics put away.”

Symptoms of Children Not Getting Enough Sleep

Children who aren’t getting enough sleep will sometimes exhibit symptoms that are different from the drowsiness that adults exhibit. While children may be sleepy during the day, they may also display hyperactivity, anxiousness or even depression. Before making a diagnosis such as ADHD, pediatricians will ask about the amount of sleep and the quality of sleep a child is getting over time.

Like adults, children may have poor quality sleep because of sleep apnea, which usually occurs in the early morning hours after a child has been asleep for a while. If a child is gasping for air while sleeping or they snore loudly, they may be getting poor quality sleep, and these symptoms should be discussed with your child’s healthcare professional.

Children who have allergies, those who are taking certain medications, or children who are neuro-atypical may also have unique sleep challenges that should be discussed with a professional.

Teens

Routine and consistency will help children set their circadian rhythm. Dr. Varghese says that teens may be at a disadvantage because their bodies are naturally set to stay up late and sleep late. She notes that teens need 9 to 10 hours of sleep, so backing up from an early school start time may mean going to bed by 10 p.m.

“Most of them are still going through puberty,” she says. “Growth hormones….making brain connections, plasticity – they’re made during sleep, so it’s really critical they get nine to 10 hours of sleep. Eleven hours is really good for them.”

Dr. Varghese encourages parents to talk to teens about staying off their phones and computers during the sleep hours. “It’s…hard because they get loads of homework, they get anxious, and it’s somewhat addictive, so sometimes parents have to really go in there and say, ‘Hey, you have to get off your phones.’”

Infants

New parents may have the most questions when it comes to their baby’s sleep – or lack of sleep. Dr. Varghese separates the infant months into 0-3 months, and 4-11 months.

“Infants 0 to 3 months sleep pretty heavily,” she says. “Fourteen hours or as much as 17 hours, but they don’t sleep straight. Their bodies are meant to wake up every two to three hours, and that’s really important because most of them need that wake-up time to feed in order to get that sugar in their bodies to give them energy.”

Dr. Varghese says that even though it may be difficult for parents, it’s important for the baby’s health in the first months to be fed every two to three hours.

When babies reach 4-11 months, they may start sleeping for longer stretches. Dr. Varghese says that it may not mean 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., but maybe midnight to 5 a.m.

Sleep Safety

Parents of infants also need to be aware of sleep safety. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you have your infant in a crib or a bassinette in the same room that you’re sleeping in at least until 6 months of age,” Dr. Varghese says.

Bedding in a crib or mattress should be firm with no bumper or guards, toys or other soft items that may obstruct a baby’s breathing. Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep.

“These safety guidelines may seem stern,” she says, “but they do reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).” The guidelines do lessen the risk of SIDS, which is rare.

Dr. Varghese, who is the mom of a toddler, encourages mothers to get sleep tips from other mothers. You may hear a good idea, and it may be something you want to discuss with your child’s pediatrician.

“Remember that even though we have these set guidelines, every child is different, so sometimes certain things work for certain children,” Dr. Varghese says. “Some children are very in tune with listening to something calm that will help them sleep. Some children are very good at falling asleep under dim lights. You have to practice and see what works for your child.”

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