Children’s Sleep and Mental Health

We all want what’s best for our children, when they’re awake and asleep. Unfortunately, sleeplessness is one of the most common problems kids face – whether it’s them simply not settling or wanting a parent close by at night. As if that weren’t enough, evidence linking children’s mental health and sleep duration continues to grow, with many researchers emphasising the connection between the amount of sleep children get and issues like depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviour and poor cognitive performance. So, what can parents do to help ensure their children’s mental health is benefiting from a good night’s sleep? TEMPUR® investigates…

HOW MUCH SLEEP DOES A CHILD NEED?

Depending on how old they are, your child will need a different amount of sleep. Sleeping well is essential for their physical and mental health; you should always be encouraging them to practice good sleep habits. Of course, it’s perfectly natural for your child’s sleep needs to change over time, but as long as they’re happy, alert and well rested during the day, that’s all that matters.

The optimal sleep requirements by child development stage are as follows:

  • Toddlers – about 12-14 hours (including daytime naps)
  • Ages 3-5 – 11-12 hours
  • School-age – 10-11 hours
  • Teenagers – 9-10 hours

Lack of sleep in children may very well bring on complications as they get older. Letting them sleep the right amount for their age can help protect against these.

WHAT CAN AFFECT CHILDREN’S SLEEP?

There are many things that can affect how children sleep – both physically and emotionally. Giving a child as much uninterrupted sleep as possible is crucial for their mental health, which means finding ways to settle them when they won’t nod off naturally.

Reasons why your child might be struggling to sleep include:

  • Teething
  • Separation anxiety – common among very young children, who fear being left alone at night
  • Bedtime fears, e.g. of the dark
  • Having too many naps during the day
  • Hyperactivity when tired
  • Too much screen time

It’s important to identify any issues children have with getting to sleep early on. Some may be resolved through physical intervention, others by simple reassurance.

CHILD SLEEP DISORDER SIGNS

Children taking longer than usual to get to bed is normally nothing worth worrying about. However, if it soon becomes clear that your child has trouble with sleep or even actively avoids it, they may be suffering from a sleep disorder.

Any or a combination of the following could indicate that your child has a sleep disorder:

  • Lying awake in bed
  • Calling you for attention
  • Making more trips to the toilet
  • Sleeping for only about 90 minutes a time, even at night
  • Itchy legs
  • Loud snoring

If these habits don’t resolve themselves after a few weeks, get in touch with your child’s doctor, who will be able to advise on the best course of action.

HOW TO HELP A CHILD WITH SLEEP PROBLEMS

The key to a successful bedtime if your child has difficulty sleeping is preparation. Making evenings about rest and relaxing will help them associate this time with giving themselves a break, both mentally and physically.

Tips for helping a child with sleep problems include:

  • Give them a warm bath, so they’re relaxed
  • Dim their bedroom lights, which encourages production of the sleep hormone melatonin
  • Read a story together, or listen to some relaxing music
  • Get them to try light breathing exercises
  • Establish a healthy, consistent sleep routine – including a set bedtime
  • Don’t let them eat meals or drink anything fizzy before bed
  • Remove all electronic devices – phones, iPads, laptops, etc. – from their room prior to falling asleep
  • If all else fails, it may be worth refreshing their sleep environment with a new mattress – provided they’re currently sleeping on one older than 8 years

If none of the above self-coping methods help, be sure to contact your child’s doctor and raise any concerns that you may have.

Are you worried about how well your child is sleeping and its effects on their mental health? Tell us more in the comments below…

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