By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Many parents don’t realize that their child may not be getting enough sleep every night. Most people feel that eight hours a night is plenty of sleep for a school-aged child. However, children aged 5 to 12 years need about nine to 12 hours of sleep every night.

Sleep is important for children because it has an effect on their mental and physical well-being, and the hormone that stimulates growth is released while a child sleeps.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation in children include:

  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Tendency to “explode” or throw tantrums
  • Over-activity or hyperactive behavior
  • Reluctance to get out of bed or acting overly groggy in the morning

Some suggestions for making sure that your child sleeps enough are:

  • Don’t let your child’s activities interfere with sleep. Many children participate in activities such as sports or other hobbies. Though these activities are beneficial for them, if they have too much going on in their lives, they may miss out on valuable sleep.
  • Try to keep your child calm before bedtime. Regular exercise is good for children, but exercise too close to bedtime can keep children awake.
  • Give your child a warm bath. If your children are too wound up to go to sleep, try having them take a warm bath before bedtime. Soaking for even 15 minutes can relax them.
  • Don’t let your child have caffeine for at least six hours before bedtime. Caffeine, a stimulant in sodas and chocolate, can keep your child awake at night. If they want a drink before bedtime, give them milk or water.
  • Don’t allow your child to watch television or play on the computer before bed. Instead, read to your child before bedtime. Reading is a great way to help children get to sleep.
  • Make sure your child’s room is comfortable and sleep friendly. It should be quiet, not too hot or too cold, and dark. If necessary, use a small nightlight.
  • Set a consistent sleep schedule and be firm about bedtime. The body functions best when it’s on a regular timetable, so it’s best for a child to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day — weekends included.
  • Make sure your child knows that it’s important to get a good night’s sleep.

Children who have sleep problems, such as daytime drowsiness, loud snoring or breathing pauses during sleep, may have a sleep disorder. If your child has these symptoms, talk to your pediatrician.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: the earlier your children go to bed, the more time you have to relax and catch up on your own sleep.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.