Kidding Around: How many hours of sleep should you and your kids really be getting?

Sleeping cat (Pixlr)

I’m yawning as I write this. Such is the life of a parent with three children age 4 and under.

How many hours of sleep?

You might be surprised to read this, so buckle up:

  • Infants 4 to 12 months old are supposed to get 12 to 16 hours of sleep each day. That includes naps.
  • Toddlers 1 to 2 years old should get 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day (including naps).
  • Preschoolers 3 to 5 years old should be getting 10-13 hours of sleep each day (including naps).
  • Kids 6 to 12 years old should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep each day (not including naps).
  • Teens 13 to 18 years old should get 8 to 10 hours (!) of sleep each day. No naps, of course.

The rest of us? I guess we take what we can get. I’m pretty accustomed to 5-6 hours, and that’s not uninterrupted. If I get 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep, wow. That’s a vacation. In all honestly, I don’t think it’s physically possible for me to sleep longer than that at this point in my life. My body just screams “OK, enough, get up!” Or maybe that’s my kids.

Jokes aside: The Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for anyone 18 and up and 7-8 hours for the 65 and up crowd.

Anyway, those child sleep guidelines are from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). I have seen these before, and perhaps you have, too. My kids certainly don’t always adhere to these guidelines, but is this my fault as a parent? Maybe some days it is. Actually it’s always my fault, who are we kidding??

I gave my two oldest candy the other night after 7:30 p.m. Their bedtime is 8 p.m. This was a huge mistake, and I paid the price as they wouldn’t settle down for a book, then they were awake and making noise until 10 p.m. I felt terrible. That’s on dad. Don’t do that!

Here’s what we try to do in my house, and we often fail (miserably), but we certainly try:

  • Set a bedtime: You have to be strict about this one, even on weekend. When 8 p.m. rolls around, to be we all go. Perhaps I’ll sneak back downstairs once the kids are asleep, but their mother and I (if we’re both around at bedtime) will at least make it look like we’re off to bed, too. We try to at least show them that sleep is a priority for everyone in the house.
  • Keep the kids physically active: Getting kids outside is important. I’ve found my kids go to be more easily and sleep better, longer if they spend at least a few hours playing outside each day. Even in the winter time we try to get them outside often when it’s safe.
  • Monitor screen time: My kids are still pretty young, so I can only imagine managing screen time becomes more of a challenge with the older ones. It’s not like my 4-year-old has his own phone. But they do watch TV. We find it’s best to get them away from the TV and reading a book before bed. Again, I am not saying this always happens (sometimes they will fall asleep watching TV) but we notice a big difference if they settle down with a book before bed. Ten to 15 minutes of me reading to them in their room is usually more than enough. Usually.
  • Healthy diet: Easier said than done, but yeah ... make sure they’re not eating complete garbage before bed. Sugars and calories don’t help the cause. As stated, I still learn this the hard way.

By the way: My cat gets about 14 hours of sleep each day -- when he can escape the over-the-top love and affection from the 3-year-old.

Summer sleep struggles

OK. That all makes sense, but what if I told you it stays light outside until 10 p.m. now? Yeah, and your kids are absolutely aware of this.

“But the Sun is still awake, dad! It’s not nighttime.” -- My son, almost every night. Oh, and you bet he’s up at the crack of dawn each day. Such vigor for life! You can’t be upset with that.

But what now? How can we help make sure the season isn’t cutting into his sleep? Local 4′s Dr. McGeorge has addressed this issue:

“Our bodies naturally feel more awake when it is light outside, and summer socializing can be tough to resist. A darker room will help rigger the hormones that signal your body that it is time to sleep. Consistency is also key to getting good sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can dramatically improve your quality of sleep, making it easier to fall asleep at night and to get moving in the morning. If you really can’t sleep during the summer months, maybe invest in blackout blinds -- that’s one of my secrets to a good night’s sleep all year long.”

In my experience, I cannot stress the importance of consistency enough. That goes for both adults and kids. You have to get to bed on time consistently if you want this to work, no matter the time of year or how light/dark it is outside.

I used to work a 3 a.m. shift at a newspaper. I did that over a summer, with a bedtime of at least 7 p.m. I had to stay very active during the day. I had just come off of a different newspaper job where I worked 3 p.m. to midnight. It was a weird time in my life, to say the least. Long story short: I needed to eat good foods and exercise regularly in order to get any kind of sleep. It was a crash course for me, and I think about it all the time. Nothing else worked except a healthy diet and cardio.

Naps -- what are those?

Before I wrap up this topic, let’s get back to that note about naps. I would suggest setting a nap time for your children, but I don’t know what that’s like. My oldest stopped napping by the time he was 2. His younger sister rarely naps, too, and she absolutely won’t do something her brother won’t do. He’s 4 and she’s 3 now and they are not nappers. We’ve tried. They do take “breaks,” however. This is quiet time. I do wish they would nap during the quiet time, but I guess it’s not something that runs in our family. I never nap. Their mom never naps. Maybe we should, because clearly we have so much free time. Ha!

Our 1-year-old does nap. He takes two naps a day, preferably. He’s up around 7 a.m. each morning and napping by 10 or 11 a.m. That can last about an hour. Then he’ll nap again in the late afternoon -- hopefully longer than an hour. He is usually in bed by 7:30 p.m.

Napping is healthy. I am not against it at all. Studies show even the shortest naps are beneficial to our minds and bodies. But I have never had a lifestyle conducive to napping, and I certainly don’t now, so I can’t preach on this.

Until next time, I hope you can get some rest!

Let me know how it’s going for you

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Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.