How much sleep do kids really need? Sleep quantity and quality are both equally important and can play a huge role in your child's learning and mood. Sleep is the key time for our bodies to relax and restore.
What are the goals for sleep? Infants should sleep 12 to 15 hours, toddlers need 11 to 14 hours, preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours, school-aged children need 9 to 11 hours, and teenagers should be sleeping at least 8-9 hours every night. Timing of falling asleep can also make a big difference when it comes to sleep quality. Infants to school-age children should be aiming for between 7-8 pm. Children that go to bed after 9 pm tend to be more irritable, wake more frequently, and have less and poorer sleep and then behaviour and mood overall. Children respond to poor sleep differently than adults. They become more hyper and irritable instead of sleepy when they are overtired.
If the summer vacation mode has put a wrinkle in your children's sleep schedule, now is the time to get back on track and find a good routine now that school is in full swing. The best place to start is getting them to wake up at the same time they are going to have to be up to get ready for school in the morning. Slowly start going to bed 10-15 minutes earlier every night until you reach the optimal time. If school has already started for your little (or big!) kids here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Relaxing bedtime routine is key (for everyone adults and kids)! Screens up until the last minute before bedtime delays the release of melatonin. A bath (epsom salt baths are lovely !) or shower and then books or a cuddle is great for any age!
2. Watch sugar or caffeine in general but especially after 2 pm. Both are stimulating and can have an effect even 6 hours later in children. If your child needs an evening snack because of a super early dinner or a sports activity, ensure it is a mix of protein and/or fat with complex carbohydrates like veggies/crackers and hummus or fruit and nut butter or a smaller portion of what was eaten for dinner. Keep in mind being too full before bed can also increase wakefulness during sleep.
3. Morning sun is something I talk about a lot with patients. First morning light is essential to support the circadian rhythm which leads to better sleep at night.
4. Does your child have a clean and organized room? A clean and calm room leads to a calm mind.
5. Calming natural remedies to the rescue! I have so many tools in my tool belt to help if your child is anxious or has a busy mind or just can't relax at night. Magnesium bisglycinate (the magnesium with the least laxative effect) before bed or a calcium/magnesium supplement can be a great addition to the night time routine. Children's calming tea is also wonderful at relaxing their little nervous systems and can be a nice way to settle and have a little talk-time with an older child about their day. If your child has anxiety we always have to rule out vitamin/mineral deficiencies like iron,D, thyroid before finding a good naturopathic solution that is best that might include gaba, passionflower, or kava kava in addition to lifestyle changes and counselling.
Lastly I always ask how much physical activity their child is getting. Our bodies need movement through the day to be tired enough to sleep at night. 30 minutes of unstructured outdoor play and running around is the minimum that is essential for good sleep. Organized sports like soccer, hockey, gymnastics, martial arts are also easy ways of keeping your kids active and healthy. Too much activity for those athletic competitive children can also be a problem. Overtraining in kids even as young as 8 or 9 can have a negative impact on sleep quality and immunity. Find the right balance for your child!
Late October and early November are the most common times of the year when I get an influx of calls for supporting immunity.