The duration of a child's sleep can vary, depending
on the time of day, week and year. Further, children who
don't get enough nightly sleep are more likely to be overweight
and have behavioral problems, according to a study published
in the January 1 issue of the journal SLEEP.
The study, authored by Professor
Ed Mitchell, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand,
focused on 591 seven-year-old children whose sleep duration
was assessed by actigraphy (a non-invasive method used
to study sleep-wake patterns and circadian rhythms by
assessing movement) at four different stages of their
young lives: at birth, at one year, at three-and-a-half
years and at seven years.
According to the results, the average time spent in bed
was 10.1 hours. Sleep duration was shorter:
- On weekends than on weekdays.
- In the summer, compared with spring, autumn and winter.
- In those with no younger siblings.
- When bedtime was after 9:00 p.m.
Children who slept less than nine hours were more likely
to be overweight or obese and to have a 3.34 percent increase
in body fat than those who slept for more than nine hours.
Short sleep duration was also associated with higher emotional
"Sleep is important for health and well-being throughout
life," said Professor Mitchell. "Few studies have objectively
measured sleep duration. In this large study of sleep
in seven-year-olds, there was considerable variation in
duration of sleep. Sleep duration was 40 minutes longer
in winter than summer and was 31 minutes longer on weekdays
than on the weekend. Short sleep duration was associated
with a three-fold increased risk of the child being overweight
or obese. This effect was independent of physical activity
or television watching. Attention to sleep in childhood
may be an important strategy to reduce the obesity epidemic."
It is recommended that children in pre-school sleep between
11-13 hours a night and school-aged children between 10-11
hours of sleep a night.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) offers
some tips to help your child sleep better:
- Follow a consistent bedtime routine. Set aside 10
to 30 minutes to get your child ready to go to sleep
- Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
- Interact with your child at bedtime. Don't let the
TV, computer or video games take your place.
- Keep your children from TV programs, movies, and
video games that are not right for their age.
- Do not let your child fall asleep while being held,
rocked, fed a bottle, or while nursing.
- At bedtime, do not allow your child to have foods
or drinks that contain caffeine. This includes chocolate
and sodas. Try not to give him or her any medicine that
has a stimulant at bedtime. This includes cough medicines
It is important to make sure that your child gets enough
sleep and sleeps well. The value of sleep can be measured
by your child's smiling face, happy nature and natural
energy. A tired child may have development or behavior
problems. A child's sleep problems can also cause unnecessary
stress for you and the other members of your family.
Parents who suspect that their child might be suffering
from a sleep disorder are encouraged to consult with their
child's pediatrician or a sleep specialist.