By Barbara Ryan, Army Medicine April 28, 2014
Sleep is critical to a child's growth and development. Putting children to bed every night at the same time helps them grow up happy and healthy. From the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep, children exert a lot physical and mental energy, parents can attest. Many military children also have to deal with the stress of having a deployed parent (or parents), who may then be injured, and frequent moves, which mean saying goodbye to friends, as well as having to start a new school and make new friends. (Service members and their children have proven to be very resilient despite all the challenges.)
How much sleep is enough? It really depends on a child's age and development. After a full day of activity, children need to recharge at night through uninterrupted sleep. Getting enough shut-eye helps their cells regenerate, allows their muscles to repair themselves and supports their mental growth and development. Without sufficient sleep, children can develop behavioral issues and be at greater risk for depression, obesity and heart-related problems, among other things. Evidence suggests that regulated sleep and age-appropriate bedtimes are also very important for academic success. Sleep is just good medicine.
Make sleep a priority
Parents can instill healthy sleep habits at an early age through consistent bedtimes and by creating quiet, comfortable sleep havens. Here are the recommended hours per night:
Sleep Guidelines for Children
Age Hours (within a 24-hour period)
0-2 months 12 to 18 hours
3-11 months 14-15 hours
1-3 years 12-14 hours
3-5 years 11-13 hours
5-10 years 10-11 hours
10-17 years 8.5-9.25 hours
Here are more valuable tips for helping your children to sleep soundly:
Establish Structure: Every child needs a regular schedule and routine no matter where you're stationed. Make sure your children go to bed at the same time each night and develop consistent habits like taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story and going to bed. If your child takes naps, his or her napping schedule and ritual should also remain as consistent as possible.
Set the Mood for Sleep: Create a safe and comfortable, quiet and low-lit environment for your children when they go to bed. Place their favorite blanket or toy with them, and remove any flashing lights from the room like tablets or televisions.
Prevent Pre-Bedtime Stimulation: Avoid feeding your children sugary snacks or caffeinated beverages in the last few hours before they go to bed. They also should refrain from excessive physical activity or visual stimulation from electronic games or television in the evenings. Make sure they are winding down and not up. Just like adults, they need to relax before they go to bed each night.
In some less common cases, children who have sleep disruptions at night or are overly tired during the day may be experiencing sleep disorders or problems. Here are some to watch out for:
Nightmares: Bad dreams can occur when a child is stressed or some sort of change is greatly impacting their life. Although nightmares are seldom an ongoing problem, it's helpful to talk to your child about their dream and help comfort them. If bad dreams persist, consult with your pediatrician.
Sleepwalking: If your child gets out of bed during the night and later has no memory of the event, it's possible that he or she is sleepwalking. Make sure your house is safe for unexpected nightly excursions. Rather than waking your child, gently lead him or her back to bed.
Sleep Apnea: If you find that your child is snoring loudly, sleeping restlessly or is tired throughout the day, sleep apnea might be the culprit. This may be due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids, allergies or other medical problems. Make sure to see your pediatrician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Narcolepsy: Children who are narcoleptic tend to be excessively tired and may fall asleep during the day even if they have had enough sleep. Check with their doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.