Kids and Sleep: Children Ruin Sleep But You Can Make It a Little Better

My kids are 9, 4, and almost 2. I’m about to talk to you about getting the right amount of sleep, which is hysterical since sleep is the one thing no one in this house seems to get. But I’m going to give it the old college try.

First of all, know how much sleep kids are SUPPOSED to get.

Last year, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, changed its recommendations for how much sleep children should get and the highlights are as follows:

  • Infants 4-12 months should sleep 12-16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 1-2 years of age should sleep 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 3-5 years of age should sleep 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 6-12 years of age should sleep 9-12 hours per 24 hours
  • Teenagers 13-18 years of age should sleep 8-10 hours per 24 hours

Some parents are blessed with kids who come home from the hospital and sleep through the night right off the bat. But if you’re like me and none of your three kids fit this description, you’ll want to use a bat to bludgeon yourself because maybe then, in a fit of unconsciousness, you’ll actually get some rest.

Even when they got older, they weren’t good sleepers. Which is to say, they’re not really good sleepers right now. Will finally sleeps through the night, but Tommy is 50/50 and we often have to go get him once or twice in the wee hours of the morning.

And then there’s Sammy.

This picture is Sam sleeping on a dog bed on the floor in our room. That’s how desperate we were for sleep. Even before bed, Sam is difficult. He requires a set regimen and very specific, detailed agenda before he even considers falling asleep. So every night, I have to:

  • Sing him “In Heaven There is No Beer
  • Then I sing him “Keg on My Coffin
  • I end things with “Wagon Wheel
  • I have to tell a story that involves a dragon and Snow White, but it has to be new and original
  • I spray “monster dust” around the room and on Sam
  • I tuck him in like a mummy
  • I ask him what sweet dreams will have, and he answers either “catching big bass” or “anteaters” (his favorite animal).

Even after all that, chances are he’s going to get out of bed 3-5 times before he settles down. And even when he settles down, he’s going to get up at least once and try to sneak into our bed.

It’s exhausting and I feel like we’re failing ALL. THE. TIME. But we persist, mainly because we have to for their own good. A study published in Pediatrics found that children with non regular bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties, and consistent sleep routines lead to positive outcomes such as improved attention, improved behavior, and improved emotional regulation. The bottom line is insufficient sleep in children can also lead to increased risk for challenges with weight, hypertension, diabetes and decreased performance at school (not to mention erosion of parental sanity).

So how do you improve sleep habits, especially with many kids going back to school? Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve your odds along with one thing you should NEVER do. Let’s start with that one first.

No matter how tempting it might be, never give your child an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to make them sleepy. If you are giving them OTC medicine, always read the label as cold and flu medicines may contain diphenhydramine, which can cause drowsiness. It is important to only treat your child with the right OTC medicine for the symptoms they are presenting, not to aid in sleep. And no whiskey on the gums, no matter how much your grandmother swears it’s fine.

Now, here are some things you CAN do:

  • Get into a routine and stick to it – consistency breeds familiarity which (hopefully) results in Zzzzzzzzzs. But if you have them going to bed at 11 pm one night and 7 pm the next, that’s going to be impossible.
  • Use 8 pm as a guideline – Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Mama Doc says melatonin levels naturally rise in kids under the age of 12 around 8 pm, and they begin getting tired. We try to follow Nature’s lead and make the transition to bed at 7:30 for Tommy (2), 8 for Sam (4) and 8:30 for Will (9).
  • Limit screen time before bed – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screens be turned off 30 minutes to 1-2 hours before bedtime. Small screens (like smart phones) are more disruptive to sleep than TV because the light from the devices can impede natural hormones that help us fall asleep. My kids are still too young for cell phones, but when they do get them, they won’t be allowed to sleep with them in their rooms.
  • Start a sleep diary – Granted, I haven’t tried this yet but after looking into it as a suggestion from the folks at KnowYourOTCs, it seems like a smart idea. Also, it would’ve come in handy for us as we just took Sam for a sleep study and other tests, and the information would’ve really helped the doctors as they try to treat him. Click here to learn more.

In the end, every kid is different and while a lack of sleep is a rite of passage for most parents, it doesn’t always have to be so hellish and there are ways to mitigate the damage. Well-rested kids are healthier and better adjusted, and so are their parents.

Or so I’ve heard.

This is a sponsored post. I am collaborating with the CHPA (Consumer Health Products Association) Educational Foundation and knowyourOTCs.org. I was compensated for this post but as always, my opinions are my own.

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One thought on “Kids and Sleep: Children Ruin Sleep But You Can Make It a Little Better

  1. We gave our kids Valarian many nights. It tastes pretty gross, but a few drops in water really works! It got easy once the kids realized it did work. You can find it at any health food store. Get the kind not in alcohol!

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