I have found through conversations with school kids, teachers and parents of elementary school-aged kids that there are so many school-age children having sleep problems. This can lead to problems in concentration at school, learning and retaining the information; behavior concerns both at home and at school and physical health. Given this, it is important to prioritize kids’ sleep so they can grow, learn and thrive.
Why they might not get the sleep they need.
As kids start to go to school they find that their social life expands. With playdates and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to prioritize sleep and bedtimes on the earlier side. I’ve talked to parents who’ve said they just can’t do appropriate bedtimes because their extracurricular activities don’t start until too late in the evening. This makes it very difficult for parents to balance. Especially when you want to encourage their love of a sport or activity.
Another issue I find is that with parents working they often need their kids to go into after school care. This is an added complexity because parents are often not getting their kids home until after 6 pm and then dinner, homework and the bedtime routine still needs to get done, leading to bedtime later than what is ideal.
What about jealousy over their friends’ sleep schedules?
If your child is anything like my oldest son, he has had big conversations with his friends about their bedtimes. He has found out that they go to bed way later than he does. Sometimes kids do exaggerate their bedtimes, which doesn’t help and sometimes it is quite true. My oldest when through a period of delaying and fighting bedtime because it was unfair his friends went to bed at 9 pm and he doesn’t. This lead to a very overtired 7-year old that struggled to survive at school and had problems with his behavior at home. So what do you do if your child has the same concerns? Let them know that not all children have the same sleep needs, so what one friend needs isn’t the same as what he needs. I’ve also explained to my son that some of his friends may be going to bed too late and may struggle – which he has said has happened at school (cue classmates fall asleep at their desks!). We’ve also talked about how great it is that he is well-rested and always alert and ready to learn. It doesn’t always stop the jealousy but it goes a long way in helping him feel like his bedtime serves an important purpose.
How much sleep does an elementary-aged kid need?
The amount of sleep an elementary-aged kid needs does depend on their age and whether they are a child with particularly high sleep needs or not. But on average this is what I suggest to my school-aged clients:
5 years old: 12-13 hours of sleep a night.
6 – 7 years old: 11- 12 hours of sleep a night.
8 – 9 years old: 10 – 12 hours of sleep a night.
10 years old and above: 10 hours of sleep a night.
How you can help them sleep better.
As much as possible it is important to prioritise good sleep, knowing that some nights will be easier than others. Here are some things you can do to help prioritize healthy sleep:
• Get plenty of sun and exercise throughout the day.
• Prioritize a good bedtime. Use the total hours of night sleep I mention above and work backward from the time they need to wake up from school. As an example: my kids wake up at 7 am so my 6-year-old goes to bed at 7 pm so he has an opportunity for 12 hours of sleep.
• Schedule downtime and a bedtime routine so your kid has time to relax. This will make it easier for them to fall asleep when they get into bed.
• No electronics within 1 hour of bedtime – this includes phones, TV, IPads, and computers.
• Teach relaxation skills to your child if they struggle with calming their mind – so breathing techniques or some yoga or meditation can help. Things like Twighlight Moshi and Insight Timer can help here.
• Make sure that they have a bedroom that is conducive to sleep – dark, calming environment. A sound machine can still be useful.
• Talk to them about the importance of healthy sleep and role model good sleep habits. Kids that understand why sleep is important are more likely to prioritize their sleep and carry this behavior into adolescence and adulthood.
• Never use bedtime as a punishment for bad behavior. We want kids to welcome sleep and not feel like it is negative. If bedtime feels like a negative thing you are more likely to have bedtime battles.