Even Big Kids Need Healthy Sleep

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My daughter, Zoe, is in kindergarten – such a big girl now! Recently, her teacher pulled me aside and said that a significant number of kids come to school tired. By the time our kids are school-age, I thought we’d be through with sleep troubles. Haven’t we been practicing and teaching good sleep hygiene all this time? Shouldn’t our kindergarteners be able to tell us when they are tired and need more sleep? No! They don’t. Whether it’s more time on the playground, or a dinner with the family, or the rest of that movie with their older siblings, they don’t want to miss anything. So it’s our job as parents to make sure they are getting enough sleep. The kindergarten teachers at Zoe’s school asked me to share a few sleep tips for kids this age, so here they are!

Healthy Sleep for Your Kindergartener

Just because our kindergarteners sleep through the night, doesn’t mean they are getting all the sleep they need. In fact, research shows that sufficient sleep is critically tied to our children’s educational development and their well-being overall. This article has some great information on a variety of research pertaining to school-age kids and sleep.

How much sleep do 5- and 6-year olds need? Every child’s sleep needs are different, but typically, kids this age need 11-12 hours each day. Our kids are so active—physically, mentally, and emotionally. During sleep, their bodies undergo muscle repair, memory consolidation, and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. Research shows the loss of one hour of sleep each night is equivalent to the loss of two years of cognitive maturation and development (i.e. your 6-yr old will perform more like a 4-yr old the next day).

What are some recommended bedtime routines? What you do matters less than when and how you do it. Keep the routine to less than 20 minutes. Begin before your child is overtired. Be consistent – do the same steps in the same order every night. Do as much of the routine as appropriate in the cool, dark bedroom. The time itself is also important. Get your child to bed the same time every night; inconsistent bedtimes throw off their systems (similar to jet lag in adults).

How does screen time affect sleep and bedtime? While relaxing with a TV show for a half-hour before bed might seem like a good idea, the blue light from television or other electronic screens can delay melatonin production and drop in body temperature (both are needed to fall asleep). So be sure all screen time ends at least an hour before bedtime.

Why do some kids have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? If you have ruled out any medical issues, most bedtime struggles fall into one or both of two categories: 1. your child is overtired, and/or 2. there aren’t clear expectations and limits set around bedtime. When children are overtired, their bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals help keep us awake and prevent the onset of sleep. High levels of these hormones may also contribute to night wakings. Try an earlier bedtime if your child struggles to fall asleep or stay asleep. For #2, if your child resists going to bed or drags it out, create a relaxing bedtime routine with clear limits. Have your child help write up a chart listing all the steps of your bedtime routine. Incorporate a “last requests” step to get all those demands for a drink of water or extra hug out of the way before you say goodnight. Give rewards for compliance and be consistent.

Why do some kids have a tough time waking up in the morning? We often hear that kids don’t want to wake up, and getting out the door is tough. When kids are still tired in the morning, they probably didn’t get enough sleep at night. Determine what time your family needs wake time to be, and count backwards 11 or 12 hours; there’s your bedtime. Get your kids up at the same time every day. Just as a consistent bedtime is important, a consistent wake time is also critical. It helps set the biological clock that regulates many of our bodies’ systems (sleep-wake, hunger, mood, immunity, mental alertness, etc.). If mornings are difficult, think of things you and your child can prepare the night before, like packing backpacks and lunch, or laying out clothes.

“Big Kid” sleep is a big topic. If you have questions, please post them to our Facebook page and we will do our best to answer them! Or leave us your comments here.

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