Question: My daughter has had a hard time falling asleep and maintaining a good sleep schedule this school year. What can I do?
“Sleep problems are common throughout childhood, but we tend to notice them more during transitions like back-to-school time,” says Sarah Selickman Heidt, MD, a community pediatrician affiliated with Cincinnati Children’s. For many children, it’s hard to adjust after a summer of late nights and sleeping in. Kids are also facing a change in daytime routine, and they may be anxious about the new school year.
Sleep needs vary among children. A good goal is 10 to 11 hours per night for grade-school children and 8 to 9 hours for teenagers.
If your child is having trouble sleeping, here are some simple things you can do.
Keep sleep rituals consistent throughout the week. Wake-up and go-to-sleep at approximately the same time every day including the weekend. If your child spends time in different households, discuss this with other caretakers.
Make your child’s bedroom an optimal environment for sleep. It should be cool and dark. Remove any distractions. No TVs! With older children, agree on a time to stop using cell phones and texting.
A good night’s sleep starts with good habits during in the day. Make sure your child eats nutritious foods and has a balanced diet. Cut-out foods and drinks that contain caffeine like soda, chocolate, coffee and tea several hours before bedtime. Ask about and discuss any problems at school. Limit computer and TV time and exposure to violent shows and video games.
Spend time outside. Daylight helps strengthen our circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock that helps us sleep on a regular schedule). Get at least one hour of exercise (such as riding a bike) each day.
Napping should be developmentally appropriate. Generally after age 5 or 6, our bodies don’t need a nap under normal circumstances.
Establish a ritual of quiet, soothing activities an hour before bedtime. Turn off the TV and keep lights and noises low. This is a good time for a warm bath or shower or reading before bed.
If you’ve done all these things and are still having issues, make an appointment with your child’s doctor. That way you can find out if there is an underlying medical problem, such as depression or anxiety, or even obstructive sleep apnea, and if medication or an evaluation by a sleep specialist is necessary.
Quick Check: How much sleep does your child need?
Infants (2 – 12 months) 13 to 17 hours
Toddlers (1 – 3 years): 12 to 14 hours
Preschoolers (3 – 5 years): 11 to 13 hours
School age children (6 – 12 years): 10 to 11 hours
Adolescents (13 – 18 years): 9 to 9.5 hours
Sarah Selickman Heidt, MD is a community pediatrician affiliated with Cincinnati Children’s. She practices at Pediatric Associates of Mt. Carmel, and is president of the Cincinnati Pediatric Society. If you have a question for the pediatrician, email firstname.lastname@example.org.