Sleep is a Family Affair

Sleep is not only an individual issue, it’s also a family issue.

Partners affect one another’s sleep. Parents influence and shape their children’s sleep lives. Children impact how, where, when and the amount their parents sleep. It’s a good strategy to have sleep goals not only for individuals, but also for the family as a whole. These goals will change over time, as children grow and develop and as adults age. Sleep is dynamic, and keeping up with its changing needs and challenges is one important way to ensure healthy sleep for every family member. Below are tips for your family on how to sleep better.

Challenges to Family Sleep

Today’s families face many ongoing challenges to healthy sleep. Busy schedules, ever-present technology, an abundance of school and work obligations mean many families aren’t sticking to regular sleep routines. Sleep suffers when it is a make-it-up-as-you-go endeavor. To get sufficient sleep, and to make sure it is high-quality sleep, regular sleep routines for everyone in the family are essential.

Children’s sleep needs change over time. So do the issues and challenges the face in learning to sleep well. For young children, sleep challenges are often about establishing basic sleep behaviors—learning to fall asleep on their own, sleeping through the night, acclimating to a bedtime routine.

As children age, other challenges appear. The lure of nighttime activities—many of them involving digital and electronic devices, from televisions to tablets—can pull children away from sleep and bedtime. Children may not want to sleep in their own beds, and the revolving bed routines that emerge can undermine sleep for both children and their parents. Older children and teenagers have homework, school and social activities, and often constant access to technology—all of these factors compete with bedtime.

How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?

Sleep is essential for physical and mental health throughout our lifespan. During childhood, abundant, high-quality sleep is especially critical for development. Infants and young children sleep as much as they do in part because during sleep their brains and bodies are engaged in a breathtaking degree of neurological and physiological development. The need for sleep to aid growth and development does not go away after infancy, but remains throughout childhood and beyond.

Sleep needs vary somewhat among individuals at every age, from infancy through adulthood. What follows are recommendations that apply to most children. Signs of insufficient sleep in children—daytime tiredness, behavioral problems, difficulty in school or with peers—should be brought to the attention of physicians and met with increases or adjustments to sleep routines and amounts.

Newborns. Children 0-3 months need somewhere between 14-17 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Their periods of wakefulness between sleep usually last no more than a few hours, and—as every new parent knows—newborns wake and sleep at all times of day and night.

Babies. From 4 months through their first year, babies typically need 12-15 hours of sleep. This includes a 9-12 hour stretch of sleep at night, supplemented with up to 3 or more hours of napping at multiple points during the day.

Toddlers. Up to the age of 3 years, toddlers need between 11-14 hours of sleep overall, spread between nighttime sleep and daytime naps. During these years, sticking to a sleep routine is critical, as children regularly test the boundaries of bedtime.

3-5 years. Young children this age generally need between 10-13 hours of sleep a night. Naps during these years usually diminish, but still can help to meet daily sleep needs for these young children.

6-13 years. School age children will typically require 9-11 hours of nightly rest. Distractions and external challenges to sleep become prevalent during these years, as children are increasingly engaged with the broader world.

14-17 years. Teenagers need between 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Helping teenagers make sleep a priority amid so many activities and obligations—homework and school, sports and other extracurricular activities, socializing—can be tough. It is an investment in their lifelong sleep habits, which they’ll soon be managing largely on their own. Keeping technology from intruding on bedtime and sleep is among the central challenges for teens and their parents.

Parents are Sleep Models

Moms and dads who make their own sleep a priority will find themselves better, more patient, more energetic and more present parents as a result. Parents who practice healthy sleep routines and strong sleep hygiene are also providing their children with important models for how to sleep well and the role of sleep as an essential component of a full and balanced life.

There are some fundamental sleep-supportive practices that parents can practice themselves and encourage their children to adopt:

  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule, with consistent bedtimes and wake times—even on weekends
  • Exercising regularly, but not too close to bedtime
  • Maintaining a clean, cool, dark bedroom that is free of electronics and digital devices
  • Engaging in consistent before-bedtime routines that emphasize relaxation and do not involve screens or significant exposure to artificial light

Looking for advice on sleeping better? If so, get your free copy of my ebook, 10 Things Great Sleepers Do.

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10 Things Great Sleepers Do

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