Better Sleep for the Whole Family

Feature Sleep

As parents, we work hard to implement reasonable bedtimes for children, but between basketball games, soccer practice, school functions, early school-day starts and the inability to unplug, everyone in family may find themselves joining in a drowsy chorus of “I’m tired.”


From tots to teens, all members of the family – including Mom and Dad – need solid, uninterrupted sleep for their bodies to be at peak performance and stay well, but as a society always on the go, sleep often is given a low priority.


Research shows that without healthy rest and sleep habits, children and adults can suffer from an onslaught of disease, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Dr. Carolyn Hart, a sleep health physician with Presbyterian Family Sleep Center, says getting enough sleep is as important to good health as a well-balanced diet and exercise.


“Sleep is healing and restorative for the mind and emotional well-being,” she says. Organs reset to base levels during nighttime sleep, enabling each organ to properly function, and the body system as a whole to work for balanced metabolism, heart health and kidney function.


For teens that cram for tests late into the evening, chances are they aren’t going to do as well as those who close their books and get some shut-eye. Hart says studies show that students perform better on tests of newly learned material when they study and then sleep on it, rather than studying all night and not sleeping.


“People think sleep is downtime when, in fact, sleep is a healing and learning process. The brain does a lot of learning and consolidation of memory when sleeping,” says Hart.


Getting the Right Amount of Sleep


Newborns sleep 16-20 hours a day, waking when hungry. Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, begins to develop at about 6 weeks of age, and by 3-6 months, most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle.


During the first six months of life, babies learn to consolidate sleep into longer chunks of time during the night, waking up once or twice during the night, and then finally sleeping through till morning.


Between 6 months and 1 year, a baby needs 13-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, says Hart. For most babies, that means 10-11 hours of sleep at night and two one- to two-hour naps each day.


“I say spoil a baby rotten in the first six months,” says Hart, “but by 6 months of age, (he or she) should be able to consolidate sleep,” she says. Hart adds that self-soothing is a crucial life skill, and advocates allowing a baby to self-sooth even if that means waiting out the crying. “If a baby is fed and changed, not too cold or hot, and knows he is safe, he will figure out how to self-soothe and put himself to sleep.”


By around ages 4 and 5, many kids stop napping, “but a lot of 5-year-olds still need naps,” says Hart. She recommends implementing a quiet time for preschoolers even if they don’t fall asleep.


Children ages 6-10 still need an average of 11 hours of sleep, and middle-school students need 10 hours of sleep. To help kids and tweens simmer down before bed, turn off computers, video games and cell phones the hour before bed. “Though (children) may say it’s relaxing, it’s not because it gets the brain all ramped up,” says Hart.


Teens need nine hours of sleep each night, but most average about seven hours.


Television, early classes, homework, text messaging and socializing play into that lack of sleep. Middle-of-the-night texts and chirps from a bedside cell phone break the sleep cycle and add to what Hart calls “junk sleep.”


She explains, “Junk sleep is when you eat into sleep time by staying up late doing something you’re interested in. It’s like skipping a meal, but you can’t skip sleep.”


Put Yourself to Bed


Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep, but are averaging less than seven; meaning most are walking around in a sleep-deprived state. According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 75 percent of moms struggle with bouts of insomnia.


For moms, dads and young adults who suffer with insomnia, Hart advises they try practicing relaxation techniques before bed. This does not include listening to music or watching television, she says, because these activities actually keep the mind active.


“Consciously take control of thoughts and calm them down,” says Hart. Count backward and think about nothing but numbers, or do image relaxation, where you visualize yourself walking on the beach or another favorite place, she suggests.


Parents also can teach children how to relax themselves. Hart recommends Indigo Dreams, a series of CDs that includes stories for children and teaches progressive breathing techniques and muscle relaxation through creative imagery. For more information on helping the family get a good night’s sleep, go to