As a parent, you're not only concerned about your own sleep, but
your kids', as well. Just as adults' sleep needs may vary, children
of the same age may need different amounts of sleep to function
optimally. In general:
Infants should sleep as much as they can,
though their sleep is typically for several hours at a stretch
before they wake.
Toddlers need about 12 hours of sleep
(including nighttime sleep and daytime napping).
Preschoolers need about 10-11 hours of
sleep, including naps.
School-age children, 5-12, need about 10
hours of sleep a night.
Teenagers need about nine hours of sleep
(though they still seem impossible to wake in the
Before my son was born more than five years ago, I
thought I was prepared for every aspect of parenting.
I plowed through piles of parenting books. I researched
the safest infant seats, cribs and swings, and stocked up on
sleepers, diapers and wipes.
But I never anticipated the exhaustion that goes
hand-in-hand with parenting a newborn. As my son didn't sleep
through the night until well after his first birthday, I found that
walking around in a fog became my new normal.
Even now with two children, I crave the days (or rather,
nights) when I slept soundly-all night long. If this sounds like
you, you're not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation,
women are more likely to experience insomnia than men, and they're
also more likely to have daytime sleepiness. That's bad enough, but
sleep isn't a luxury-it's critical for both physical and emotional
No, you can't do much about a teething baby or a
9-year-old who's up all night with the flu, but you can make sleep
a priority. Better-quality sleep-and enough of it-will improve your
outlook, mood and overall health.
Researchers don't know exactly why sleep is so critical to
good health. But it's during sleep that a variety of essential
functions occur, including growth and maintenance of the body's
tissues, regulating immune function and suppressing the production
of stress hormones.
"Sleep is as important to us as oxygen," says sleep expert
Timothy H. Monk, professor of psychiatry at the University of
Pittsburgh. "When we get too much of it, there's probably a
problem, and when we get too little, there's a problem."
Lack of sleep causes setbacks in three different areas,
says Dr. Jonathan Warren, a specialist in sleep medicine in the
"The principal problem with not getting enough sleep is
the safety issue," Warren says. "People fall asleep at the wheel or
get injured on the job. ... Auto accident rates are higher with
people who get little sleep or little 'quality' sleep."
Then there's how lack of sleep affects your day-to-day
life. When people don't get enough sleep, they don't exercise as
often and they're tired and moody; as a result, their relationships
with those close to them are affected. In addition, their thought
processes may not be as clear as usual, and depression and anxiety
can develop, says Warren.
But in addition to the safety and quality-of-life issues,
there are health matters to consider.
"Sleep deprivation has been associated with different
health problems, depending on the age group," says Warren. In
children, sleep deprivation is associated with ADD and ADHD, poor
school performance and behavioral issues. In adults, lack of
quality sleep is linked with cardiovascular disease, heart attacks
and strokes and impaired immune system function. New studies also
suggest it makes you more likely to gain weight and may make it
harder to control diabetes.
So we need to sleep-that's clear.
Yet the 2010 Sleep in America poll, conducted by the
National Sleep Foundation, found only about 40 percent of Americans
are getting a good night's sleep most nights-and that means 60
percent of us aren't sleeping well the majority of the time. While
sleep needs vary, 30 percent of us get fewer than six hours of
sleep/night, far short of what most people need for overall health
"Sleep should be something you do, and something you plan
for and something you take seriously," says Monk. "(But) very often
sleep is the poor cousin that gets neglected. If the doctor says
you should get more exercise, you'll tend to listen … yet
even when you have a lot of responsibilities, you have to be
sensible about giving yourself enough time to sleep. Very few
people can get by on less than six hours of sleep on a regular
So how can you get more, and better quality, sleep? Start
by making it a priority. That may mean cutting back on your
favorite late-night TV shows (or TiVo-ing them to watch later) or
going to bed without finishing a stack of chores. Start looking at
sleep as not something you must do, but as an investment in your
health, your mood, your productivity, your energy level and your
relationship with your children.
How much sleep you need will depend on a number of
factors, including your age, overall health, activity level and
diet. The average adult needs seven hours and 24 minutes to
function optimally-most adults need between seven and nine
hours-but some need less and some need more.
Once you've decided to make sleep a priority, set the
stage for getting it.
"Just as someone would prepare for exercise by buying new
running shoes, you should prepare for sleep," says Monk. "Bedtime
should be a time that you prepare your mind and body so you can
sleep well. That may be relaxing or reading a book-you won't sleep
well if you're worrying."
To fall asleep more quickly and get better quality
Create a sleep habit by going to bed and getting up at the
same time every day, even on weekends. Sleeping in on a Sunday
morning may feel wonderful, but it's likely to make it harder to
fall asleep that night.
If you use your bed as a second office, stop-take your
laptop out of your bedroom. Your bed should be a respite from the
world and should be used for sleep (and sex) only.
Exercise regularly-the more active you are, the more
likely you are to sleep well. But don't work out for the two hours
before bedtime, which can interfere with falling asleep, Monk
Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it quiet,
cool and dark. Warm temperatures, noise and bright lights all
interfere with your body's ability to stay asleep.
Avoid caffeine after 4 p.m., says Monk. And while drinking
alcohol may make you feel drowsy, too much can affect the quality
of your sleep.
Have a relaxing snack before bed. Your mom may have been
onto something when she suggested a glass of warm milk. A plain
cookie or bowl of cereal before bed helps you sleep through the
How do you know that you're getting enough sleep? When you
awake feeling rested and stay alert throughout the day. However, if
you've tried to sleep better and are failing, or notice symptoms of
a sleep disorder (like daytime sleepiness, episodes when you stop
breathing, snoring or abnormal sleep behaviors), contact a doctor
or sleep specialist.
I've found that regular workouts and a regular sleep
schedule (forget the late-night talk shows!) help me get the sleep
I need. As a busy mom with two kids and a career, I definitely need
Kelly James-Enger sleeps well most nights, except when her kindergartner decides he wants to cuddle at 3 a.m. Fortunately, her baby girl sleeps for 12 hours at a stretch.
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