We all know sleep is a necessary part of life, especially at a younger age. Kids need sleep for healthy growth, development, behavior and overall success in society.

But, did you know? Children 6 to 12 years old need between nine and twelve hours of sleep a day— naps and nighttime combined. Teenagers need about eight to ten hours per night. Despite these recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, our kids are not getting enough sleep:

  • At least 1/3 of children 10 years and younger are not getting the ideal amount of sleep.
  • More than 2/3 of children 10 years and older aren’t getting enough sleep, either.

Why is this happening, and what can we do to help our kids be better rested to face the days, weeks, months and years ahead in this ever-changing world? Dr. Alyssa Nycz, Connecticut Children’s pediatrician, takes a closer look.

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First, let’s understand the potentially harmful effects of too little sleep.

Then, the elephants in the room—there are links between lack of sleep and physical, behavioral, emotional and cognitive challenges:

  • Physical—there is a relationship between lack of sleep and childhood obesity.
  • Behavioral—not enough sleep can lead to frustration, shorter attention span, lack of interest in school and inability to navigate and build resilience in stressful situations.
  • Emotional—lack of sleep can increase the chances of having negative thoughts and emotions and make these emotions more difficult to regulate. This is especially true for teenagers.

Cognitive—this means children who don’t sleep enough can have a harder time with intellectual skills like language and memory.

>Related: Mental and Behavioral Health Kit

Finally, the biggest elephant of them all—the number of children and adolescents with mental health challenges continues to increase, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthy sleep habits are only one part of the mental health crisis affecting the state of Connecticut and our nation, but we can’t afford to skip the small steps. That’s why we need to work together to prioritize our children’s sleep routines. Here’s how to start:

Pay closer attention by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What time does my child start getting ready for bed?
  • Are they falling asleep when I think they are?
  • Are their moods more negative on nights when they go to bed later than usual, or when t
Young girl wakes up and stretches

Commit to structure and consistency for optimal sleep.

When we start being mindful of our children’s routines, we may begin to make progress towards creating consistent bedtime habits. Here are two steps to take:

  • Develop a nightly routine—make sure your child knows when it is time to start winding down. Allow for some quiet time before bedtime, with reading or music. Minimize screen time within this routine, especially an hour before bedtime. It’s ok to be flexible, but you should be in control as the parent.
  • Stick to this routine once it’s established—encourage your child to try to avoid thinking of weekends as time to “catch up” on sleep. Sticking to a similar schedule will prevent the need for significant amounts of “catch up” sleep on weekends.

Through it all, listen to what your child is, and is not, saying. Are they saying they’re tired, frustrated or restless? Are they showing a wide range of emotions throughout the day? If so, your child may be not have enough sleep to feel and be at their best.

Your child’s well-being depends upon good sleep habits.  

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