Kids need sleep to learn and grow. To help your child get a good night’s rest, check out these tips from Dr. Suratwala, a specialist at Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Sleep Medicine.

Child Health | 3 years ago

Better Bedtime: Are Your Kids Getting Quality Sleep?

Kids need sleep to learn and grow. To help your child get a good night’s rest, check out these tips from Dr. Suratwala, a specialist at Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Sleep Medicine.

Just like us, kids need sleep to function and thrive. When their sleep is disrupted, everything is affected, from how they behave to how they do in school to even how they grow. 

Whether your child is a toddler or a teen, you know a bedtime routine can be something easier said than done. Thanks to an increasing amount of homework, stress and afterschool activities – plus distracting gadgets, like cell phones – getting kids to bed on time every night can be a chore in itself.

Dharmesh Suratwala, MD, a pediatric sleep specialist at Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Sleep Medicine, has tips and advice to help your child – and your family – rest easy.

Many of us aren’t sleeping enough

According to Dr. Suratwala, there are two factors to getting the best, most restful sleep: quality – and quantity. And when it comes to quantity, many of us don’t get enough sleep, kids included.

While the amount of sleep each child needs can vary, here’s the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended amount of sleep by age:

  • 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours
  • 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
  • 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years+: 8 to 10 hours

Keep in mind this includes naps during the day, so the amount of sleep your child is getting can be calculated over 24-hour periods. (See more about naps below.)

It’s all about good sleep habits

They might be young, but kids have busy schedules, with laundry lists of to-dos. Plus, they stay up late, get up early and use their cellphones more than ever – it’s no surprise, really, that kids aren’t getting enough sleep.

The key to getting good sleep, says Dr. Suratwala, is developing good sleep habits from the beginning. “Poor sleep habits can make kids feel tired and prevent them from reaching their full potential,” he adds.

Fortunately, Dr. Suratwala has a few tips to help you establish good sleep habits in your own home.  

  1. Set a bedtime and a wake-up time. And do your best to keep those times the same on the weekend, with no more than 1 to 2 hours of variation.
  2. Limit naps. While naps are crucial for healthy babies and toddlers, most kids stop napping between ages 4 and 6. When your child reaches a certain age, try to limit how often they nap.
  3. Set expectations. When your child goes to bed, set an expectation that they’re to stay there and go to sleep – unless they’re sick or there’s an emergency, of course. Dr. Suratwala suggests having three “get-up passes.” Each time your child comes out of their bedroom or makes any last-minute requests and delays their bedtime, they use a pass. If they don’t use all their passes, they get to “cash their pass(es)” to collect a special prize in the morning.
  4. Avoid stimulants and distractions. This includes caffeine, cellphones and other things that can keep your child up. Dr. Suratwala recommends having what he calls a “parking station” outside your child’s bedroom, where they (and everyone in your house) can park all their gadgets while they sleep.

When to see a pediatric sleep specialist

Not all sleep challenges point to a health condition, but even kids can get what may seem like grown-up sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy and others. Some kids are at a higher risk for sleep apnea, including those with enlarged tonsils, epilepsy, allergies, asthma, obesity, muscle weakness, smoke exposure or who were born early, to name a few.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include labored breathing, pauses in breathing and snoring. “Snoring isn’t normal for any of us, and it’s definitely not normal for kids,” says Dr. Suratwala.

But signs of sleep disorders aren’t always physical. Some are behavioral, like hyperactivity, crankiness and irritability. And others are psychological, like anxiety and depression. Even things like weight gain and a sudden drop in grades can be red flags. “All of this can be the result of not getting a restful night’s sleep or having sleep that’s interrupted or not refreshing,” says Dr. Suratwala.

If your child is showing any of those signs and symptoms, talk to their pediatrician. They’ll be able to connect you to a sleep specialist, like Dr. Suratwala, who will help you get to the bottom of your child’s restless nights.

“Sleep is like a dishwasher for your body,” says Dr. Suratwala. “It washes the dishes all night long that we collect throughout the day, and it lets us start each day with clean utensils.”