Ask any adult how much sleep they get on a regular basis and the answers will vary. Some need nine or ten hours; some more like five or six. The correct response? Whatever the amount you need to feel rested and refreshed when you wake up in the morning. {When was the last time that happened?}

When it comes to kids, we have ranges that children fall into for sleep requirements based on age. But studies show they’re not getting it.

“As a society, we are really sleep deprived,” said Dr. Laura Sterni, director of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital. Teenagers really need between 9 and 9.5 hours of sleep. The reality? On average, they get about 7 hours. Elementary school aged children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep over a 24 hour period. 

Inadequate sleep has been linked to poor performance in school, difficulty with memory, behavioral issues, increased chance for sports-related injuries, decreased physical activity, and poor nutrition. {How many of you reach for the donut and coffee instead of yogurt or a piece of fruit when you’re really tired? Kids for the same thing.}

“Getting a good night’s sleep is just as important as brushing your teeth,” said Dr. Sterni, who strives for at least eight hours a night herself.

how to ensure your child’s getting enough sleep

According to Dr. Sterni, there are some easy ways to increase the quality of your child’s sleep (and quite honestly — your own!):

  1. Limit evening screen time. Putting on your child’s favorite television show is probably not the best way to help them wind down. It has the adverse affect, as do iPads, phones, and computers. Kids shouldn’t have televisions in their bedroom.
  2. Pay attention to your child’s schedule. Can your child realistically handle their evening schedule? If it includes two sports practices, a music lesson, and homework, the answer is no. Look at where you can cut back.
  3. Limit caffeine intake. If you have a young child, this probably isn’t coming into play yet. But your teen? Skip the late afternoon coffee run.
  4. Create a healthy sleep environment. We already talked about keeping televisions out of bedrooms, but creating a comfortable sleep environment is another great way to foster good sleep hygiene. Rooms should be dark with temperatures below 75 degrees.
  5. Bedtime consistency. Your child should wake up and go to sleep about the same time each day. Bedtime should differ no more than an hour from one
    day to the next (including weekends).
  6. Wind down time. Make sure you leave enough time for winding down every day. A quiet, relaxing activity will help the brain quiet. Dr. Sterni likes to read and dim the lights.

when your child isn’t getting enough sleep

If you suspect your child isn’t getting enough quality sleep — and you’ve put good sleep hygiene tips into practice — there may be an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed. The first thing to do is talk to your pediatrician. With common childhood sleep disruptions like night terrors, reinforcing positive sleep hygiene may be the key. For other issues, like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), medical intervention may be necessary. If the latter is suspected, a pediatrician will most likely refer the patient to the Pediatric Sleep Center at Mt. Washington.

Oftentimes, snoring can be an indicator of OSA– especially when a child struggles to breath while snoring. If your child frequently sleeps in unusual positions or is restless during sleep, those may also be indicators of OSA.

“Snoring is very common in children,” said Dr. Sterni. “But when it interrupts their sleep and tiredness starts to interfere with their schoolwork or behavioral issues, it needs to be addressed. While some children may grow out of snoring, we’re not sure which will. We tend to lean toward treating the child by removing his or her tonsils and adenoids.” 

But before any treatment decisions are made, a sleep study takes place. Sleep studies monitor a child’s behavior while sleeping and take places in the Pediatric Sleep Center’s state-of-the-art sleep lab — which operates studies seven nights a week all year long. That’s approximately 1400 sleep studies per year.

The Pediatric Sleep Center also takes care of patients with complex sleep disorders in their pediatric sleep clinic. Like all of the Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital programs, care is holistic and involves families, medical doctors, psychologists, nurses, and respiratory therapists. 

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do. Just take a look Nicky’s story.

About Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital: Where Children go to Heal and Grow

Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital is a specialty children’s hospital that treats more than 8,000 patients each year on an inpatient and outpatient basis. The 102-bed post-acute hospital specializes in family-focused treatment of children with serious, chronic and/or complex medical needs. MWPH has renown in feeding and sleep disorders, brain injury and rehabilitation, behavioral health and autism, neonatal transition, newborns transitioning from heroin dependence, and childhood obesity, among other service lines. Founded in 1922 as a children’s convalescent home, MWPH is a jointly owned affiliate of The University of Maryland Medical System and The Johns Hopkins Health System. To learn more, visit www.mwph.org.