Keeping Kids Healthy
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. 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-age child.

However, children between 5 and 12 years old need about 9 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 have tantrums

• Over-activity or hyperactive behavior

• Reluctance to get out of bed or 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.

• No texting 30 minutes before bedtime or during the night.

• Make sure their room is comfortable and sleep friendly. It should be quiet, not too hot or too cold, and dark. If necessary, use a small night light.

• 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.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.