Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep? Are You?

At a counseling conference my husband and I attended in October, one of the trainers made an interesting statement: “If one of my counselees comes in with general depression-like symptoms, one of my first questions is how much sleep they’re getting.” He shared that his personal policy is to tell them to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep a night for 2 weeks straight, and then schedule another appointment with him. As an MD and biblical counselor, he recognizes the way that a lack of sleep affects our entire body, soul, and mind.

As a mom this is highly applicable to our lives. One of the things I’m convinced of as a mom is that my entire household suffers when *I* don’t get enough sleep, and/or when my children don’t get enough sleep.

Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep? …Are YOU? // article + helpful chart with sleep recommendations according to age // jessconnell.com

A SOCIETY-WIDE PROBLEM

To be truthful, and I’m not “slamming” anyone, when I look around our society today, I’m concerned. Factors like:

  • Smartphones, tablets, “phablets”
  • Constant entertainment: movies on demand, commercials running in the shopping aisles, TVs in restaurants, fold-down screens in vehicles
  • Video gaming at unprecedented levels
  • Extreme levels of commitment to sports and extracurricular activities that keep families running from one thing to the next
  • Two-income families with over-scheduled children
  • A workaholic culture

keep us constantly busy. Physically and mentally, we are going-going-going, often late into the night. Then we wake up early and start it all over again. We don’t just NOT get sleep, but we actually actively avoid it by keeping our screens flashing in our faces well into the night when people used to be fast asleep. And I’m guilty too: too many nights lately have ended with me playing “one more game” of SpadesPlus.

Nearly everyone in America is suffering from a lack of sleep.

A recent study showed that only 18% of preschoolers studied were getting sufficient levels of sleep. Personally, I believe that begins with the development of poor sleep habits in infancy. But regardless of what you feel about infant sleep patterns, and your role in it, here’s what I want to say to you:

As a mom, it is your job to see to it that your children get adequate sleep.

One of the verses that is a blessing to me as I do this for my children (even amidst protests of “bedtime, already?” from older children) is this verse:

In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food– yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves. ~Psalm 127:2

Sleep is a loving GIFT we give to our children.

God gives us SLEEP as a gift of His love, and one important way that we can “love” our children is to insist that they be in bed, primed and ready for sleep at the appropriate times. Even if they are (literally) kicking and screaming, seeing to it that our children sleep well is an important part of motherhood.

One rarely-discussed is important for moms to realize:

A lack of sleep mimics many physical symptoms of illness.

This is an important thing to let sink in, for both your children, AND you. It’s why the MD/counselor makes it a pivotal part of his fact-finding with patients who come into his office.

Chronic sleep deprivation:

  • contributes to greater depression and anxiety
  • dumbs us down, giving a foggier, more forgetful, slower-working brain, making it more difficult to function well, and making it more difficult for children to learn
  • increases risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes
  • kills the sex drive
  • ages the skin
  • contributes to weight gain & obesity
  • increases relational problems (probably because of factors like poorer communication and togetherness)
  • increases risk of death
  • contributes to slowed fetal and childhood growth
  • decreases the ability to focus on a task or conversation
  • impairs judgment, increasing the likelihood of car accidents and occupational injuries
  • more alarming effects listed here

 

Here’s a quick guide I created (based on WebMD guidelines) to give moms a sense of daily medically-recommended sleep levels at each stage:

Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep? Are You? // jessconnell.com

 

To some of you, those numbers may seem extreme. But these are the medically-recommended levels of sleep for each age & stage.

WHEN THE CHILD “WON’T”/CAN’T SLEEP

I’ve heard moms say their kids “won’t sleep” but sleep studies teach us that sleep begets sleep (meaning, that a sleep-deprived person may not feel like sleeping, but once sleep begins happening, the body gets into a better rhythm and desires more, and better, sleep, getting into a better rhythm over time). So (speaking generally, not in regard to medical issues) the key is to get your child to sleep when they ought to sleep, and keep seeing to it.

Yes, I mean for night time, and yes, I mean for nap time. It’s what I’ve been doing for over 12 years now… seeing to it that my children sleep & even take naps when they don’t (on their own) want to choose that option. The data bears out: it makes for healthier, happier children, contributing to mental and physical growth. But my experience has also shown me that it makes a MASSIVE amount of difference in their ability to relate to the world.

Don’t you see that in your own life?

For me, the day after getting a poor night’s sleep, godliness and self-control seem farther out of reach. It is difficult to keep ugly things from spewing out of me. I struggle with my words, attitudes, and reactions. (And I’m a 35-year-old adult with the Holy Spirit inside of me, not a 3-year-old running and learning a mile a minute!) As a mom, I have the privilege of helping our children to have greater self-mastery, healthier bodies, and better attitudes, through this wonderful little gift of sleep.

Whatever you do for infant sleep cycles, at some point, you need to see to it that your children get regular, rich sleep, somewhere near the recommended levels on the chart above.

WHEN MOM “CAN’T” SLEEP

Maybe YOU’RE the one who feels unable to get enough sleep. Especially if you are a mom of little ones, you might think, “6-9 hours a DAY? But the baby still wakes up to nurse… but I have so much to do… but when will I…”

For you, I’ve got compassion & some articles you may want to check out:

Not every season affords the greatest sleep ever, but we can care for ourselves and our family by ensuring excellent sleep whenever it’s possible.

IDEAS FOR GETTING MORE SLEEP:

  • Postpartum: sleep when the baby sleeps (Yes, the house will be messier. That’s OK; you just had a baby.).
  • Toddler/Preschooler phase: nap alongside that sweet little guy. Speak loving words, grab his chubby hand, say “night-night” and snuggle up for a good couple-hours’ nap.
  • Trade off sleeping in on Saturday mornings — Let your husband sleep in late this Saturday, and you sleep in the next.
  • Hit the sack early. Do it on purpose. Shut off the devices, shut off the lights, and go to bed.
  • Take a hot bath with epsom salts to relax your muscles so you can get to sleep faster. You can even add lavender (this is the kind I buy) or other favorite scented oils to relax your senses.
  • Make love to your husband. The hormonal release of oxytocin will help you go to sleep faster and sleep better.
  • Use fans/white noise to mask household/street/neighborhood sounds. Less distractions= more sleep.
  • Make sure your room is dark enough. Light can really inhibit sleep… so use room-darkening curtains if you need to (this can be a simple liner behind your decorative curtains), but keep your room nice and dark.
  • Use earplugs. I am not sensitive to noise, but my husband is, and he swears by earplugs. Get some noise-blocking earplugs and cut out the distractions that threaten to intermittently wake you up.
  • Lower the temperature and pile on the blankets as needed. Cooler temperatures lead to better, deeper sleep.
  • Ask someone to help with the kids while you nap. Yes, I mean it. If you are in a chronically sleep-deprived place, ask for help. There is no shame in this. You will be tempted to use these 2-4 hours for something “productive” but when you aren’t getting enough sleep, a WONDERFUL NAP is the most productive thing you could do. This is one of the ways that the Body of Christ can bless & love one another, by meeting needs and offering support at difficult times.

 

IN THE COMMENTS, SHARE:

  • How do you go about getting enough sleep for your family? 

 

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-results-sleep-loss
http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/important-sleep-habits
http://www.md-health.com/Lack-Of-Sleep-Effects.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_deprivation

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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30 Responses

  1. SummerDawn says:

    I’m definitely seeing in the last several weeks the need to make sure one (soon probably two) of our kids gets more sleep as they start ‘changing’. I remember my older brothers napping every day after they hit puberty. Our two olders have very tender hearts, and it seems to be necessary for them to maintain their ‘normal’ positive personalities while their body is working so much specifically right now!

    For us, this recent need has been a bit of a challenge, to set aside time and make it a priority to not do late nights, to set aside afternoons for quiet (and chamomile in the eve’s, etc!). But it has made a rather large (and great) impact the days that we do!

    If I want a happy pre-teen, I gotta do my part, too – and want to help make this transition as smooth and productive and God-honoring as possible! I swear, this makes ME want more sleep! 😉

    • Jess Connell says:

      Haha, responded to you on FB but not here. Yeah, we’re hitting that “needs more sleep” stage with Ethan @ age 12.5 & it’s tricky… he wants to stay up later, but he’s happier & healthier when he, basically, goes to bed at the same time, or within an hour of, his much younger siblings. And then he’s often one of the last ones to wake up. I tell him all the time, “what that’s telling me is that your body needs it, even if you don’t think you want it.” LOL.

      I totally agree with your comment- “if I want a happy pre-teen, I gotta do my part.” And helping them understand their bodies and limitations is such a good thing. Not easy, but good. Thanks for jumping into the convo, Summer.

  2. kendra says:

    Fantastic post. Sleep is perhaps a bigger factor in our mental and physical health than exercise and a proper diet. I’m a sleep evangelist for this reason :) Very reasonable and practical treatment of the subject!

  3. Doug Connell says:

    This is an insightful article from the Washington Post that cites a lot of evidence for prioritizing sleep, no matter your age or other life-situation. You should check it out:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/12/02/no-youre-not-sleeping-enough-and-its-a-big-problem-15-scary-facts-in-new-natgeo-doc/

  4. Katie S says:

    We notice such a difference when everyone gets enough sleep! We do a better job of making sure the kids get enough rest; we’re working towards making sure that’s true for mom and dad, too. We’ve replaced our bed, which helped, and I’m a fan of earplugs too. I’ve noticed that I really need to watch the time if I want to eat or have a drink of water – if it’s past 7 or so, it will often interfere with my ability to fall asleep. It’s a work in progress.

    I laughed when I saw this post today, as we’ve just been scratching our heads about our sixteen-month-old. Last week, we moved both of our kids (ages 3 yrs & 16 mos) into the same room, and we’re still working out the bugs. Initially, we pushed her bedtime back an hour so we could do bedtime prayers with the entire family, which we have LOVED, but it seems that she’s a bit short on sleep now. Do you or any readers have suggestions for shared rooms, with differing sleep needs?
    (We tried having them still nap in separate rooms, but the youngest naps for two hours and that is it – so she doesn’t make up missed night time sleep during the day, or if she does, it’s very unusual. I don’t know how to extend her naps. Also, both kids naturally wake up by 7:30; they have to be very tired to “sleep in” at all.)

    • Michelle says:

      Katie, we have kids who share a room and my best advice is this: stick it out for a couple of weeks, buy a good sound machine, and make sure the room is DARK when it’s sleep time! And after couple of weeks their bodies should adjust and if someone needs more sleep they should start sleeping in. It’ll be a rough couple of weeks because someone will be tired, but in order to make a new schedule work you have to stick with it and be consistent. As long as the room is dark enough (don’t be afraid to put foil on your windows if your curtains don’t do the job!) that they don’t automatically wake up when the sun comes up they should adjust. We have taught our kids to come out quietly if they wake up before the other, and when one goes down later than the other we do all the “bedtime stuff” out of the room and then just tuck them in, kiss them, and leave.

      I think the key thing for me for us getting enough sleep is that I don’t usually do projects. I did make an advent calendar a few weeks ago but usually I don’t have anything “fun” going on, maybe a book but that’s it. With three littles under 5 it’s just more important that we sleep than that I have cutesy homemade things around the house. My husband and I almost always go to bed at the same time, and we’re usually in bed (to sleep!) by 10:30. There are exceptions to this but this is the general rule…10:30 lights out.

      And I’ve noticed the “sick” symptoms with my oldest when she doesn’t get enough sleep or when she’s really tired. She’ll complain that she doesn’t feel well and almost always it’s because she’s up late for some reason or another, or because she refused to nap when we wanted her to (because we knew she’d be up late). Lack of sleep really does manifest itself in physical symptoms!

      • Jess Connell says:

        Michelle– this is really an outstanding observation:

        I don’t usually do projects. I did make an advent calendar a few weeks ago but usually I don’t have anything “fun” going on, maybe a book but that’s it. With three littles under 5 it’s just more important that we sleep than that I have cutesy homemade things around the house.

        We all have to know our limits, and sometimes the pull of pinterest and even our own natural inclinations can get us into unhealthy cycles where we’re taking on more than we should, and saying “yes” to more than we should. Good for you for identifying one of your “can’ts” and ditching any negative feelings about not having, as you put it, “cutesy homemade things around the house.”

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s true, Katie– we are bad about that too… making sure all the kiddos get good rest, and then staying up all night (or just rather late) because we just like our together time as a couple so very much.

      But then I’m more tired, LOL. So we’re trying to shift that around.

      Shared rooms…. all our boys except for the baby are in one room. One of us (usually Doug, now, although we used to rotate) sits with them for about 10-15 minutes once it’s lights out, to help them settle down and basically stop talking. Sometimes he’ll read a book aloud while they fall asleep (like the Narnia series). We do naps in separate rooms (my 4.5 year old still takes naps most days.

      I’m kind of a sleep commander… I don’t let them stop naps until they can successfully go all day (all the way to bedtime) without having fussy/grumpy/tantrumy fits. So. They nap until they can do that, which hasn’t happened for any of kiddos until past 4 years old. Two of my kids were still taking daily naps, more often than not, at 6 years old. Like you, my kids don’t tend to sleep in unless they are excessively tired (like, up til midnight at a New Years party tired).

      As far as shared rooms & bedtime go, the key to me is obedience. Once they know they need to obey you then telling them to settle down and go to sleep isn’t that big a deal. Sometimes they’ll be giggly about something (which is why one of us sits with them), but it doesn’t have to be a battle nonstop, if they know you mean it & that it’s seriously bedtime. When they’re younger like what you have, it’s a bit different than what I have going on now. The main thing is getting the older child to understand that if he/she rolls over, and is quiet, and goes to sleep, the baby/toddler eventually will too. So then teaching them to do that, where they don’t talk/wiggle/go get the dropped stuffed animal/etc, is the key.

      Other things that might help/that we’ve done at different stages:
      * kids’ songs or audiobooks/Bibles on tape
      * CALM worship songs on tape
      * letting them talk/wind down as long as it stays quiet (this is arbitrary and harder to enforce but it worked when we had just 2 boys 2 years apart in the one room).
      * putting them down in different places (one in the room, one in our bed) then moving them once we go to bed
      * sitting with them until they actually fall asleep (takes longer but if you or your husband need quiet wind down time at the end of the day may not be a big deal to you & could work)

      Hope this helps. Hang in there and keep fighting the good fight. :)

      • Jess Connell says:

        By the way, our rule with tapes/songs/stories is that as long as they don’t talk or get out of bed, they can continue listening to them, but if they talk or get out of bed, they lose their tape for the night and maybe longer. So it motivates them to listen, and then quietly turn over and go to sleep (or just fall asleep while listening).

        One other thought: be sure you’re wearing your kids out sufficiently during the day. I’ve never had an issue with kids falling asleep at night, and I think a large part of that is that they are active and have good eating habits. Running, riding bikes, active, not eating right before bed, so by the time they finally hit the sack, their little bodies really are primed & ready for sleep.

        OK, that’s all for now. :)

        • Katie says:

          Hi Jess! I agree that little ones need to get their wiggles out, as I say. I’m curious what your suggestions are for the winter time? We live in a very cold winter climate and especially with a baby, it’s hard for me to take my two year old out for what I think is long enough to get out the energy she needs to use up, but also stay safe in the cold weather. Any suggestions about what to do inside? I try to have her do jumping jacks and dance, but it doesn’t hold her attention currently… :)

          • Jess Connell says:

            Some of my friends in cold climates have indicated that they force themselves to get out for at least a short brisk walk, regardless of how cold it is. (This includes people up in super-cold areas in Alaska & Canada.)

            For my part, I have used things like rolley-ridey toys (if they have wheels that won’t scratch the floors), wrestling with daddy in the evenings (or wrestling with mom when I’m not postpartum), climbing pipes (when we had exposed piping in our Turkish apartments our 3-6 year old boys would sometimes climb those sturdy steel pipes from floor to ceiling), outside (while bundled) play for the child on an enclosed or fenced deck/porch/balcony in a place where mom can watch, things like workout videos with mom, etc.

            Here are some specific (and fun!) ideas for floor play with toddlers and preschoolers: http://jessconnell.com/video-floor-play-ideas-with-your-preschooler/

            (I made that video with my younger guys)

            Hope this helps!

          • Jess Connell says:

            Katie– I asked your question on my Facebook page. Check out ideas from other moms here:
            https://www.facebook.com/JessConnellAuthor/posts/1853994448152572

          • Katie says:

            Jess, thank you for your response and also for posting to fb. I am happy to go see what others share as well! :)

      • Michelle says:

        I did forget to mention that when our bigger girls were younger (say 1 and 3) we did not put them down for bed at the same time. The 3-year old went to bed first because she did not (and still does not) usually nap, but she would need a 7:00 bedtime because of that (but would not fall asleep until nearly 10:00 if she napped). So she went to bed first and the 1-year old would follow an hour later or so. If they did go to bed at the same time then one of us would usually lay down with the 3-year old to help her be quiet and still. Now, at almost-5 years old, she’s much better at it, but we decided then that it was less stress on all of us to just lay down with her than to be angry and frustrated and stressed-out over bedtime. Only in the last 6 months or so have they started to go to bed at the same time and to actually lay there quietly on their own to go to sleep.

        • Jess Connell says:

          Yup, Michelle! Each of us needs to assess the season we’re in and how we can maximize healthy restful sleep during that season. Sometimes that will mean laying/sitting with your child. Sometimes that will seem like too much energy used, at other times you won’t have energy for anything else. One thing moving around the world taught us (and I’m sure y’all, too) is that we just need to be able to roll with the current season & do the best we can IN that season.

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