The Miracle Of One More Hour!

It’s past their bedtime but they are still awake (again). Why? A few reasons come to mind immediately: You just got home from work and want to spend some time with your kids; Soccer practice was over late, homework still needs to get done and there’s that diorama to build; Things are just not THAT organized around your house; The kids aren’t tired ’till later, anyway. So what?

You know that you often have to make do with less-than-enough sleep so what’s the harm for your kids? No big deal –  they can handle it, right?

Yes, we understand. We get it. But if you want your kids to be more emotionally stable, more alert and engaged at school and perform better academically with fewer behavior problems, then you may want to give the whole sleep thing another look.

Researchers from McGill University recently found that altering the bedtime of normal, healthy kids  by one hour made a significant difference in all of the above. The study asked teachers to fill out a 10 item questionnaire that assessed impulsivity, attention, irritability and emotional reactivity at the end of a study period.

The teachers did not know the sleep status of the children they were assessing and none of the kids in the study had any previous academic, medical or behavioral problems. On weekdays, some of them were put to bed an hour early while others were kept up an additional hour.

The results were crystal clear: the kids who got an extra hour of sleep improved in all areas while the sleep restricted ones got the opposite effect. Their alertness, behavior, emotional regulation and academic performance deteriorated significantly as the result of a very modest alteration to their sleep schedule.

Mamas, this is BIG! As if that wasn’t enough,

  • There is evidence to show that not getting enough sleep can affect your immune system’s functioning and make you more susceptible to illness.
  • Several studies have demonstrated a significant link between insufficient sleep and obesity. One in particular (Bell and Zimmerman 2010) showed that it was night time sleep that mattered most. Day time naps did not make up for the difference.
  • A 2009 study from Finland found that kids who slept less than 9 hours each day were 3-5 times more likely to develop psychiatric symptoms, attention problems and behavior problems (Paavonen et al 2009).

But how much sleep is enough? It absolutely varies with age.

WebMD makes the following recommendations:

1-4 Weeks Old: 15 – 16 hours per day

Newborns typically sleep about 15 to 18 hours a day, but only in short periods of two to four hours. Premature babies may sleep longer and colicky ones shorter.

Since newborns do not yet have an internal biological clock, or circadian rhythm, their sleep patterns are not related to the daylight and nighttime cycles. In fact, they tend not to have much of a pattern at all.

1-4 Months Old: 14 – 15 hours per day

By 6 weeks of age your baby is beginning to settle down a bit, and you may notice more regular sleep patterns emerging. The longest periods of sleep run four to six hours and now tends to occur more regularly in the evening. Day-night confusion ends.

4-12 Months Old: 14 – 15 hours per day

While up to 15 hours is ideal, most infants up to 11 months old get only about 12 hours sleep. Establishing healthy sleep habits is a primary goal during this period, as your baby is now much more social, and his sleep patterns are more adult-like.

Babies typically have three naps and drop to two at around 6 months old, at which time (or earlier) they are physically capable of sleeping through the night. Establishing regular naps generally happens at the latter part of this time frame, as his biological rhythms mature. The midmorning nap usually starts at 9 a.m. and lasts about an hour. The early afternoon nap starts between noon and 2 p.m. and lasts an hour or two. And the late afternoon nap may start from 3 to 5 p.m. and is variable in duration.

1-3 Years Old: 12 – 14 hours per day

As your child moves past the first year toward 18-21 months of age he will likely lose his morning nap and nap only once a day. While toddlers need up to 14 hours a day of sleep, they typically get only about 10.

Most children from about 21 to 36 months of age still need one nap a day, which may range from one to three and a half hours long. They typically go to bed between 7 and 9 p.m. and wake up between 6 and 8 a.m.

3-6 Years Old: 10 – 12 hours per day

Children at this age typically go to bed between 7 and 9 p.m. and wake up around 6 and 8 a.m., just as they did when they were younger. At 3, most children are still napping, while at 5, most are not. Naps gradually become shorter as well. New sleep problems do not usually develop after 3 years of age.

7-12 Years Old: 10 – 11 hours per day

At these ages, with social, school, and family activities, bedtimes gradually become later and later, with most 12-years-olds going to bed at about 9 p.m. There is still a wide range of bedtimes, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., as well as total sleep times, from 9 to 12 hours, although the average is only about 9 hours.

12-18 Years Old: 8 – 9 hours per day

Sleep needs remain just as vital to health and well-being for teenagers as when they were younger. It turns out that many teenagers actually may need more sleep than in previous years. Now, however, social pressures conspire against getting the proper amount and quality of sleep.

So in case you haven’t gotten that all-important sleep schedule figured out yet, you may want to make it a priority, mama. It’s just that important for your child’s overall health, success and well-being.





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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.