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Children who don't get enough sleep are at risk for a whole range of mental and physical woes, including some potentially serious health issues. New sleep guidelines for babies, school-age children and teens, recently released outline just how many hours of sleep kids need at every age in order to help them be at their best.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is lending its backing to the recommendations developed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Here's the lowdown on how much sleep kids need at different ages, according to a consensus group of 13 sleep medicine experts and researchers who developed the recommendations:

“The NSF has committed to regularly reviewing and providing scientifically rigorous recommendations,” says Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, Chair of the National Sleep Foundation Scientific Advisory Council. “The public can be confident that these recommendations represent the best guidance for sleep duration and health.”

The panel revised the recommended sleep ranges.  A summary of the new recommendations includes:

  • Newborns (0-3 months ): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers  (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category) 

Here are six simple things to add to—or eliminate from—your routine to help your child get a better sleep.

1. Lose the games: It’s hard to cut down on screen time. But a recent study published in Pediatrics showed that kids who played one hour of video games an hour before bedtime showed significant sleep disruption. Ensure game play takes place a few hours before bed.

2. Breakfast for bedtime: Some parents try to sneak in extra fruit servings before bed, but it turns out foods that combine protein and carbs, like oatmeal with milk, or toast with natural peanut butter, form amino acids that act like tryptophan, the chemical that makes you feel sleepy after a turkey dinner. Other foods that aid sleep include yogurt, cheese, bananas, poultry, eggs and tuna.

3. The environment: Some kids may have troublefallingorstayingasleep because of allergens that cause itching, overheating and congestion. Have your child tested for allergies if you suspect this to be the case, and put him to bed in breathable, low-allergen organic cotton pajamas and sheets.

4. Unplug: Electrical fields given off by appliances can interfere with your quality of sleep by disrupting melatonin secretion. “Place alarm clocks, baby monitors, TVs, cellphones and other electrical devices no closer than three feet from where you sleep,” says Joyce Johnson, a naturopath in Belle River, Ont. “Even if devices are off, they can emit electrical fields, so unplug them.”

5. Lights out: The healthiest way to sleep is in complete darkness. “New research indicates that light pollution (any light, especially too-bright clocks or night lights) can disrupt hormone regulation, which affects sleep, and also immune system function,” says Johnson. Are your kids afraidofthedark? Put the night light in the hallway and turn it off once they’re asleep, or use one that eventually shuts itself off. Also try blackout curtains or sleep masks for kids who wake up unnaturally early from sunlight streaming into their rooms.

6. Make bedtime special: When children feel loved, they tend to relax. A predictable bedtime routine that includes cuddling up with you for a story and a chat is likely to calm your little one, and help him drift off to dreamland more peacefully.

Most importantly, make sleep a priority in your family. You must schedule sleep like any other daily activity, so put it on your families "to-do list" and cross it off every night.  Remember that sleep is an important part of growth and keeping your children healthier and happier.

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Robert Showalter, RST, RPSGT, is the Sleep Center Director for Mary Black Health System in Spartanburg.

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