Discover the importance of essential sleep for kids and teens. This blog sheds light on the underestimated link between sleep and mental well-being in young people. Delve into why sufficient sleep is vital for kids, exploring its profound impact on their overall physical and mental health.

Ensuring that children get enough sleep is vital for their overall development, including both physical and mental well-being. When children don’t maintain consistent sleep patterns, it can create challenges for parents and caregivers. It also brings problems like not getting enough sleep, which can make the whole household feel off. Well-rested individuals generally foster a more positive and contented environment, as the impact of sleep deprivation often results in irritability and mood fluctuations.

Children who regularly get good-quality sleep are more prepared to do well in different aspects of life. Indicators of lack of sleep in children include:

  • Growth- or hormone-related concerns
  • Difficulties in concentration
  • Mental health issues
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Hyperactivity
  • Weight gain
  • Behavioural problems
  • Memory challenges

What contributes to sleep issues in kids?

Certain factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing sleep difficulties. These factors include a person’s nature, health issues, sleep preferences, developmental difficulties, or anxiety.

How parents or caregivers handle rules during the day and bedtime, can also affect sleep. Sometimes, there’s a difference between what parents expect for sleep and what’s normal for a child’s development. The surroundings can impact the successful implementation of rules or a child’s perception of bedtime.

Sleep challenges faced by teenagers

In the fast-paced world we live in, teenagers may perceive sleep as a lower priority. Engaging in extensive phone or electronic device usage, particularly on the internet or social media, is a common distraction.

Throughout adolescence, the internal sleep clock of the body undergoes a reset, causing a tendency to fall asleep later at night and wake up later in the morning. This shift occurs due to the production of the sleep hormone melatonin happening later in the night for teens compared to children and adults. Consequently, teenagers may experience difficulties falling asleep. In certain instances, this pronounced delay in the sleep-wake cycle can significantly impact daily activities, leading to a condition known as delayed sleep phase syndrome, colloquially termed “night owl” syndrome.

However, there are additional factors contributing to sleep disturbances in teenagers. Bright lights and blue light from electronic devices can make it harder to fall asleep by affecting the release of melatonin.

Determining the ideal sleep duration

School, activities, sports, homework, and time with friends keep kids and teens busy. Getting enough rest is vital for them to be ready for the next day and to enhance their overall physical and mental well-being. But not everyone knows how many hours of sleep doctors suggest.

Some individuals naturally differ from these averages, and that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a sleep problem.

Sleep hygiene:

Sleep hygiene refers to a set of practices and habits that are conducive to good nighttime sleep and overall health. These practices aim to create an environment and lifestyle that promote quality and restful sleep. Sleep hygiene encompasses various factors, including sleep duration, sleep environment, bedtime routines, and daytime habits. Here are some key components of good sleep hygiene that are great for improving kids sleep:

  1. Screen-Free Zone: Turn off all screens at least 60 minutes before bedtime to mitigate the impact of blue light on melatonin production.
  2. Turn the lights down: Make the room dark by dimming lights and closing curtains to help produce melatonin, the hormone that aids sleep.
  3. Pre-Bedtime Bath or Shower: Schedule a warm bath or shower approximately 90 minutes before bedtime to facilitate relaxation. Avoiding this too close to bedtime prevents potential disruptions to the sleep schedule and body temperature.
  4. Structured Preparations: Establish a specific order for bedtime preparations, including putting on pyjamas, brushing teeth, and using the toilet.
  5. Bedtime Story Ritual: Spend quality time reading a bedtime story with your child to foster a sense of calm.
  6. Affectionate Goodnight: Offer hugs and kisses, reassuring your child that it’s time to go to bed. Comfort is crucial, as stress and anxiety can impact sleep quality.

To overcome bedtime challenges, consider these additional strategies:

  • Daytime Activity: Keep your child active during the day with morning active games, but avoid intense exercise close to bedtime. Choose quiet activities post-dinner, like board games or reading, to aid in winding down.
  • Nutritional Considerations: Discourage the consumption of energy drinks, sugary, or caffeinated items close to bedtime.
  • Consistent Routines: Strive for consistency in bedtime rituals to enhance sleep quality and align with your child’s circadian rhythm. Some parents find that using a gro clock helps children grasp when it’s time to doze and when it’s time to wake up and play.
  • Screen Time Reduction: Power down screens one hour before bedtime to ease the onset of sleep. Excessive screen time can stimulate wake-promoting hormones like serotonin or cortisol.
  • Optimised Environment: Create a clutter-free space to promote relaxation, designating specific areas for schoolwork, play, and sleep.
  • Comfortable Bedding: Prioritise the comfort of your child’s bed, considering a new mattress for optimal sleep quality. Evaluate the condition of their pillows for an all-around better sleeping experience.

By addressing these aspects and actively managing any issues, parents contribute to their children’s overall health, mental well-being, and growth.

If your child is struggling to fall asleep, try these tips:

  • Initiate a “winding down” bedtime routine approximately 30 minutes before your child’s typical sleep time. Gradually bring bedtime forwards by 5 to 10 minutes each week, or 15 minutes if your child typically goes to bed very late, with the aim of aligning with the desired sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a time limit for putting your child to bed. This might involve agreeing to read just one story, then tucking your child in and saying goodnight.
  • Offer sleep-friendly snacks like cherries, almonds, or honey (which produce melatonin) or foods rich in tryptophan like marmite, poultry, canned tuna, oats, Greek yoghurt, nuts, and seeds. Options high in magnesium, such as brown rice, leafy green vegetables, yoghurt, avocado, and tofu, can also be beneficial. A great late-night snack is a banana and a glass of milk, which provide melatonin, magnesium, tryptophan, and vitamin B to support sleep.
  • If your child gets out of bed, gently guide them back to bed with minimal fuss. Strive for consistency, and be prepared to follow this routine for multiple nights if necessary.
  • Promote open communication with your child or teenager regarding their sleep issues. Create a safe space for them to talk about their emotions, share worries, and talk about how you can help them.

How your mood affects sleep and vice versa:

Many children and young people have trouble sleeping, which is often linked to their mental health. This shows how important it is to have good mental well-being for better sleep.

Stress, anxiety, and trauma can make it hard to sleep well. This can cause problems like bad dreams, sleepwalking, or not being able to sleep at all. These issues can affect how well you learn and behave, and can also make it hard to focus on school work. They can even make children and young adults feel sad and withdrawn.

Persistent sleep challenges, such as sleep disorders, may hinder growth, weaken the immune system, and increase the risk of accidents. If your child or teenager experiences ongoing issues schedule an appointment with their GP.

For more information about kids sleep visit Great Ormond Street Hospital website.