How much sleep does your child need?

Cries in the night and bedtime tantrums: a child who doesn’t get enough sleep can become hard to handle.

According to the UK Sleep Council, a disturbing number of children spend their formative years chronically sleep deprived. These children become inattentive and exhausted and it can result in depression and other physical and emotional disturbances. 

Symptoms of sleep deprivation

  • Frequent waking during the night
  • Taking a long time to fall asleep
  • Waking up crying
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting
  • Grinding teeth
  • Waking up prematurely
  • Talking during sleep
  • Sleep-walking (most common at age 4 to 8)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Low frustration tolerance and moodiness
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning

Signs of too much sleep
  • Complaining of being tired all the time
  • Grogginess that doesn't go away (napping doesn't help)
  • Constant headaches
  • Forgetfulness
  • Constant napping
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Loss of appetite
How much sleep your child needs

What lack of sleep can do

Sleeping too much or too little can cause depression, low self-esteem, difficulty in concentration and focus, difficulty with critical thinking and problem solving. Researchers have found that children who sleep less than 10 hours per night in their preschool years are more likely to show problems with their verbal and spatial skills by the time they start school. 

Unlike adults who are mainly lethargic when they are sleep deprived, children often become hyperactive. This hyperactivity in turn makes it difficult for them to fall asleep at night, which in turn, creates greater sleep deprivation. 

In addition to hyperactivity, you may have noticed other symptoms of sleep deprivation that overlap with symptoms of ADHD. The question is: Is the ADHD causing the sleep problems or are the sleep problems producing the symptoms of ADHD?

Sometimes the only way to figure this out is to do a sleep study on your child. If he or she has an undiagnosed sleep disorder, an earlier bedtime will not solve the problem. Many children incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD actually have an underlying sleeping disorder.

How to get the balance right

Maintain consistent bedtimes on weekdays and weekends. There is no such thing as ‘catching up on sleep’. If children sleep in on weekends, it sets them up for sleep problems during the week.

Avoid drinks that contain caffeine (including tea) or sugary drinks before bedtime. Also, make sure that your child doesn't eat anything at least 2 hours before they go to sleep. 

There is a major connection between time in front of the TV and sleep disorders. Children who watch a lot of TV, especially if it is just before bed, are more likely to resist going to bed, wake up more often and have trouble sleeping. Violent TV programs also contribute to restless sleep and nightmares. 

Don't allow your children to play video games in the evening. Rather encourage relaxing activities such as reading or drawing. 

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