The Importance of Sleep

The Importance of Sleep

Children’s of Alabama doctor stressing the importance of a good night’s sleep

One Children’s of Alabama pediatrician encourages parents to consider their children’s sleep health during National Sleep Awareness Week.  It begins on Sunday, March 12, the start of daylight saving time, and runs through Saturday, March 18.

Dr. Erinn Schmit, a pediatrician at Children’s of Alabama, says this is a good time for parents and families to review their sleep routine and make adjustments that could impact their child’s sleep health in a big way.

“Sleep is so important for our overall health, but it is also when our brain helps to store the information we have learned throughout the day,” said Schmit. “Getting good sleep is important for children to function at school. It impacts their memory, behavior and mental health. It also helps their immune system to function better.”

Schmit says the number of hours a child needs for sleep varies depending on the child’s age. She says babies and infants require the most.  Schmit recommends that preschool children get at least 10 hours of sleep, elementary school children get at least nine hours, and teenagers get at least eight hours. Lack of sleep is a common concern for parents. A child not getting enough sleep may fall asleep during the day, be hyperactive (especially younger children), have trouble paying attention, struggle with schoolwork, be cranky or have behavioral problems.

Schmit also reminds parents that daylight saving time can be stressful for the entire family. Younger children will likely get up earlier after falling back, and teenagers can struggle after “springing forward.”  One way parents can ease some of the stress of the time change is by gradually adjusting their child’s sleep schedule.

“Gradually move the children’s bedtime up by about five or ten minutes a night for the week before daylight-saving time,” said Schmit. “It helps them to adjust to going to sleep a little earlier.”

Schmit also advises parents to have a good bedtime routine all year long. She recommends that children avoid caffeine or eating dinner too close to bedtime. She also suggests that children brush their teeth before bedtime and avoid drinking any beverage other than water after brushing their teeth to help avoid cavities and dental decay. Schmit says a good soothing bedtime routine can be what the doctor ordered for a good night’s sleep for your child.

“We recommend starting to wind down before that bedtime routine is done, turn down lights, have your child participate in quieter activities such as cuddling or listening to quiet music, and avoid screen time for about an hour before bed,” said Schmit. “

Schmit also says this is an excellent time to remind parents of children under 12 months about safe sleep guidelines. Babies at this age are at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome or sleep-related deaths like suffocation or strangulation. Schmit says you can reduce the risk by following the ABCs’ (Alone, Back and in a Crib) of safe sleep.

“The baby should always sleep alone for naps and bedtime, never with another person,” said Schmit. “They should sleep on their backs every single time until they can roll over on their own. After they can roll on their own, place them down on their back but you can let them sleep in whatever position they roll to.”

Infants should sleep in a crib, a pack-and-play or a bassinet, or in an approved sleep device that’s not an adult bed or a child’s bed.

Schmit encourages parents to keep the baby in the same room as the parents until after the baby turns six months old.

For more information about kids and health, click on this link.