Dr. Rebecca Kempton became certified as a pediatric sleep specialist sleep consultant and launched her own business, Baby Sleep Pro, to help families globally get sleep.
I have three kids and they have taught me a lot about many things, but especially about sleep. And I trained as a physician, but I worked for the last four or five years in the wonderful area of pediatric sleep. I help families all over the world to establish healthy sleep patterns. I thought I’d talk a little bit about some of the basics about sleep. Usually we know most of us know why our kids should be eating healthy fruits and vegetables, and why exercise is so important, but not as many or as familiar with why we need sleep... so much sleep.
How much sleep does a child need?
Our four- and five-year-olds really need closer to 11 to 12 hours. Our six-year-old really works on closer to 12 hours of sleep. And there's definitely a range for even our fifth grader who is 11 now. He does at least 11 hours of sleep at night. So there's a lot of sleep and probably a little eye-opening to all of you.
What happens to your brain during sleep?
It's sort of like this hyper organizing that happens. And it's really when the day's learning is cemented. It's when memories are filed and kind of organization in a very Marie Kondo type way where, you know, all the blue shirts are together and the silk blue shirts together, and then the blue shirts are together. And not only that but those connections are sort of knit together. So it's sort of this idea of cementing the learning and then enhancing them by making those connections stronger. And that's what basically makes us smarter. It makes us remember things. So it's when memories are filed and stored, and these learning connections are made. It's the only time for our kids when growth hormone is released. There are some studies that show that kids who don't get enough sleep long-term also have problems with growth.
One study showed a two grade learning difference between a kid who got enough sleep and one who didn't get enough sleep.
What happens when children don’t get enough sleep?
The consequences of not getting that sleep at 10, 11, 12 hours for our kids studies show are they sort of akin to being legally drunk. Think about that for us, but then how that would affect a kid who's not getting enough sleep. Not being able to think clearly, not being able to make wise choices and not being able to let alone solve problems or be creative. The idea of your head kind of spinning and sitting in a classroom and trying to learn this is what's happening to our kids that aren't getting enough sleep. One study showed a two grade learning difference between a kid who got enough sleep and one who didn't get enough sleep. So a fourth grader performs like a second grader with as little as one hour less of sleep. This is sleep debt over time. Some studies were showing even 15 minutes less a night of sleep than what your child actually needs accumulated over time. Over months, we're talking that one night can result in this kind of learning difference. The ability to retain information, sit in the classroom, make wise choices, socially, be able to interact, listen to the teacher, things like that.
Why does my child have trouble falling asleep at bedtime?
The biggest reason is if bedtime is too early or too late, based on your kid's overall schedule. In my experience working with families, the usual culprit is the bedtime is too late. So when you put a kid down overtired and you missed their window. It's kind of like the idea of giving them a six-pack of red bull and then saying, “Okay, time to settle.” Their body produces a hormone called cortisol, which is the one that makes you run. When you miss their window of sleep and you put a kid down overtired, their body is running because we've missed that window. It makes it really hard to then settle in. It usually takes an hour or two for that red bull, so to speak, to wear off.
Turn off all screens within two hours of bedtime. Another big cause these days is screen use too close to bedtime. To limit screen use, turn off all screens within two hours of bedtime. So that means phones, computers, TVs, obviously, but the two-hour window. The reason is the blue light from screens inhibits melatonin production. Melatonin is what they call our internal sleep hormone, which helps us fall. It's the thing that we need to fall asleep. The two things that have to happen for us to easily fall asleep are a rise of that melatonin and a drop of the core body temperature. If the melatonin isn't able to rise, and if it's blocked by the screen, then it makes it very difficult. So if kids are watching TV, even a little bit of TV, even just five minutes before bed, it can really cause the latency to sleep that you see.
Diet is another factor. I recommend dinner about two hours before bedtime and then limit snacks because the snacks are the ones that are usually the sugary things, even fruit. Some people are just giving bars out at seven or eight o'clock at night or other sugary things that can make it very difficult for their bodies to settle. Try to have a healthy dinner to help that with that wind-down.
The last one if it's too light or too cold. What we're aiming for is a room temperature of 68 to 70 degrees. So pretty cool. The drop in the core body temperature and the rise of melatonin in conjunction are what help us fall into sleep.
Are my child’s sleep issues fixable?
The great news is that it's always fixable–any sleep issue, any behavioral sleep issue, all behavioral sleep issues are very easily fixable. So if you say, “I've been working with this, I've had this problem for years… my daughter won't let me leave the room.” It's always fixable. It doesn't mean it's without some consternation or a little bit of maybe a meltdown, but it's always fixable in a very short period of time. If anyone has any sleep issues with their kids and they feel like they're stuck, know that there is always a solution for it.
- lower school
- middle school