Children need proper sleep

Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 3:02 p.m.

Adults anticipate the end of the day and the approaching opportunity to rest.

The fact that the work day has come to an end and children have been car pooled, disciplined, guided through home work, fed, bathed and had their prayers for the night is the measure of the rights of parents to get a good night's sleep.

But with children, whose life is centered on being awake and involved in some aspect of what they consider to be important activities of daily living, there is no need for sleep. So what we hear is "why do I have to go to bed" and "I'm not tired yet, I just want to finish ... . (you fill in the blank).

However, the decision to get a good night's sleep is one that is fundamental. Decisions that affect the amount of sleep children get are those that can only be made by adults. Although children, even when they are cranky and yawning, will fight the urge to sleep as long as they can, the need for sleep and the amount of sleep they get should not be left up to them.

How much sleep we need at any age requires a realistic look at the value of sleep and what it means to our health and well-being based on the body's ability to sustain itself. Such indepth reasoning is part of the responsible way we take care of ourselves and give care to our children.

When we take a look at what happens during sleep, a greater appreciation for its contribution to our health will become clearer. There is a scientific proof that an adequate amount of sleep for each person impacts every aspect of our lives.

Beginning with waking, having a feeling of renewal and ending with the fatigue from another day's activities, we are once again on the brink of another night of rest. We all want to wake up feeling as if we have a good night's rest. The expression, restful sleep, refers to how your body was able to move through the sleep cycles.

These levels are known in the medical world as stages 1 through 4, ending in the stage known as REM or the rapid eye movement stage. Making sure we get the amount of sleep we need is the best assurance we will spend time in the sequence of these stages that our body requires. REM sleep, where the greatest amount of rest is obtained, also is the stage where we dream.

The sleep habits we have as adults were probably those we grew up with.

For families that do not practice good sleep habits, the possibility that they have children who do not get enough sleep is quite possible.

For these families, I would recommend a change in behavior related to bedtime. I know it is much harder to change bad behavior than it is to create good behavior, but it can be done.

By the time we reach adulthood, we have been ingrained with the notion that eight hours of sleep each night is adequate for us. Chances are you might have contact with a health care provider who has a different opinion about this amount of time.

I know that I have read and or listened to reports that do not support the eight-hour theory, so a talk with your doctor is the best way to verify your individual need.

Children, on the other hand, need much more sleep than adults do. If the pattern of your family life does not set bedtime hours greater than eight for your youngster, you may not be providing enough of an opportunity for an age-appropriate sleep pattern for your child.

The Web site at has information that you might find helpful in planning how to facilitate the best sleep pattern for your child.

The indication is that a lot of parents simply do not know how much sleep their child needs. According to this site, experts make the following recommendations based on the age of the child:

Infants: 3-11 months old, 14-15 hours.

Toddlers: 12-36 months old, 12-14 hours.

Pre-schoolers: 48-60 months old, 11-13 hours.

School-age children: 6-18 years old, 10-11 hours.

With a constant time set aside for a nap, children can meet their sleep requirements with enough planning and preparation. It seems that we do not have to make that decision for infants. Their major functions are taken care of and they seem to eat, sleep and fill their diapers to their own schedule.

As they move into becoming a toddler, you know that stage as the time that they begin to assert themselves and challenge the effectiveness of the word "no." A schedule you are in charge of requires you to maintain a routine that involves a nap and the same consistent nighttime routine.

Warning signs can be signals that lead you to having a conversation with your child's health care provider. Take a look at the suggestions of a possible problem, also from They are:

You spend too much time "helping" your child fall asleep.

Your child wakes up repeatedly during the night.

Your child snores very loudly or struggles to breathe during sleep.

Your child's behavior, mood or school performance changes.

Your child who used to stay dry at night begins to wet the bed.

You lose sleep as a result of your child's bedtime and sleeping patterns.

Remember to be the limit setter for your child. Age-appropriate TV viewing, avoiding caffeine-laden drinks before bedtime and establishing a relaxing atmosphere are just a few of the ways that might be effective in helping you get your child to sleep.

Sleep affects all aspects of your child's life just as it does ours. In order to give your child every opportunity to be happy and cheerful, an adequate amount of sleep is very important.

Although the focus of this column has been sleep, the importance of good nutrition, exercise and a safe and happy environment are the rest of the equation.

Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing at Santa Fe College. E-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to

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