Editor’s note: Dr. Jennifer Shu, CNN Health’s Living Well expert doctor, is a practicing pediatrician and mother of two.
(CNN) — Everyone needs sleep. Getting enough is crucial to everything from attention and memory to mood moderation. How many of us get crabby, anxious or downright depressed when we don’t get enough sleep?
The CDC calls insufficient sleep a “health epidemic” based on data that nearly 30% of adults average less than six hours of sleep nightly and only 31% of teens get at least eight hours per school night.
Children are also at risk. Research published this week in the journal Pediatrics suggest poor sleep in children under age 7 can lead to weight problems and can have general negative effects on their physical, emotional and social health.
Is your child getting enough sleep?
While adults generally require about seven to nine hours of sleep, newborns need more than 16 hours per day. Children fall somewhere in between, with teens needing nine to 10 hours per day and preschoolers 11 to 12 (this amount can include naps).
One quick rule of thumb I tell parents: If your child wakes up fairly happy and easily in the morning and does not have a meltdown in the late afternoon from being over-tired, he or she is probably well-rested.
How to get more sleep
Here are some tips I give to my patients’ parents and caregivers. While most of the strategies focus on children, many of the principles apply to people of all ages.
Make sleep a priority. Quite possibly the simplest thing parents can do is to make sleep a priority in their children’s lives. Avoid scheduling activities such as music lessons, sports, social events, etc. at times that would delay bedtime (or nap time for younger children).
It can be more challenging with older children who deal with heavy homework loads or relatively early school start times. That’s why many advocates are pushing for school days that begin later.
Create routine. It’s easier for kids to wind down if there’s a predictable bedtime routine to follow. For example, in our book “Food Fights,” my co-author Dr. Laura Jana and I suggest the 4 B’s of bedtime: bathing, brushing teeth, books, and bedtime. Even for adults, curling up with a good book can often mean that slumber will follow close behind.
It can also be helpful for kids to keep sleep and wake times roughly the same (within an hour or so) each day, even on weekends.
Exercise earlier. Experts recommend kids get at least an hour of exercise per day every day. While daytime exercise can contribute to sleeping better at night, vigorous exercise too close to bedtime may just keep kids awake, so try to plan your child’s physical activity accordingly.
Shut off electronics. Avoid keeping screens such as computers or TVs in your child’s bedroom, and keep portable ones (phones, tablets, handheld games) out as much as possible. It can be helpful to have a central charging station where all of the family’s electronics spend the night.
Exciting or violent programming in particular can make it difficult for children to fall asleep. Bright screens (or brightly lit rooms) candelay melatonin release and, as a result, the onset of sleep.
Setting the stage for good sleep now is an important habit that can make a difference in your child’s future health. If you have concerns, talk to a pediatrician, or check out the National Institutes of Health’s guide to healthy sleep.
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