7 Tips for Improving Sleep in Children and Teens

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, injuries, poor mental health, and problems with attention and behavior.” A lack of sleep negatively impacts an individual’s physical, emotional, and mental health and can lead to increased stress. For children and teens especially, sleep is critical for healthy development and well-being.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Regis College Master of Applied Behavior Analysis program.

How lifestyle and therapeutic strategies can help improve a child’s sleep.

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The Effects of Poor Sleep in Teens and Children

A chronic lack of sleep impacts the health of individuals of all ages. Teens and children who don’t receive enough sleep are at greater risk for a variety of health issues.

Recommended Amount of Sleep by Age

The amount of sleep a child should receive depends on how old they are. Infants ranging from 4-12 months should receive 12-16 hours of sleep. Children 1-2 should get 11-14 hours of slumber. It’s recommended that children ages 3-5 sleep 10-13 hours including naps. Children ages 6-12 should get 9-12 hours of sleep per night. Finally, it’s recommended that teenagers ages 13-18 sleep for 8-10 hours.

Sleep Issues in Children and Teens

10% of children have a sleep issue, and 50% to 70% of children with mental health and neurologic/developmental disorders have a sleep issue. In 2013, 68.4% of high school students received less than eight hours of sleep per night. The further they advanced in high school, the higher this percentage became, topping out at 76.6% of 12th graders.

There are numerous signs that indicate sleep deprivation. These include inattention, absenteeism, irritability, hyperactivity, depression, impatience, and mood swings.

Health Effects of Sleep Disorders

Untreated sleep disorders can lead to issues like poor or unsatisfactory school performance, depression, accidents, and increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Furthermore, a 2016 study of 13 participants between the ages of 5 and 12 years showed that poor sleep in children can disrupt normal plasticity development and is linked to structural changes in the brain. Sleep disturbances and sleep disorders may also impair attention, working memory, and cognition.

7 Tips for Better Sleep in Children and Teens

There are numerous ways parents can help children and teens sleep better. The following tips are supported by studies and can be effective in improving sleep quality.

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates will make it harder to fall asleep and can even pull the body out of a deep sleep, leading to exhaustion the next day. To prevent this, limit foods high in sugar.

Reduce or eliminate Screen Time Before Sleep

Studies indicate that digital screens interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps individuals fall asleep. Therefore, it’s recommended that children turn of the TV and limit cellphone use two hours before bed.

Establish a Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine helps children relax because they know what to expect. As children get ready for bed, they will automatically become sleepy.

Lower the Room Temperature

For children and toddlers, the ideal room temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees. It’s important to stay in this range: body temperature naturally decreases to initiate sleep, but extreme temperatures can lead to restlessness.

Spend More Time Outside

Research has shown that spending time outside in the morning helps calibrate the circadian rhythm and improves sleep. Additionally, low levels of vitamin D, which is naturally produced by the body when exposed to sunlight, are linked to sleep issues.

Set a Wake-Up Time

Sticking to a consistent wake-up time is just as important a bedtime. If a child is consistently cranky in the morning, it could be a sign their sleep schedule should be adjusted.

Look Out for Sleep Disorders

While it’s normal to have occasional sleepless nights or cranky mornings, consistent sleep issues can be a sign of a sleep disorder. Parents should speak with a pediatrician about sleep habits and issues.

When to Visit an ABA Therapist

If bedtime routines, consistent wake-up times, healthy diets, and other sleep-promoting habits fail to improve sleep quality, it may be a sign of deeper psychological issues that require professional help. It’s important for parents to recognize when their children or teens should see a therapist.

Some of the signs that your child or teen may need to see a physician include being partially awake but appearing to be alert, persistent difficulties falling sleep, and persistent sleep terrors. Once your child’s physician rules out any potential medical concerns related to these sleep disorders, you may consider seeing a behavior analyst to address behavioral interventions that can help.

How Applied Behavior Analysts Can Help

In some cases, an applied behavior analyst can offer the help children and teens need to resolve psychological issues and improve sleep. There are several strategies that analysts may recommend or train parents to use, including extinction, faded bedtime, function-based intervention, and bedtime pass with extinction.

Conclusion

To live a vibrant, joyful, and fulfilling life, sleep is essential. Parents of teens and children experiencing poor sleep should consider consulting a professional for personalized help. Applied behavior analysts can be instrumental in helping teens and children change behaviors that impact their sleep quality to support their healthy development.