Tips From the School Nurse: Sleep and How Much Our Kids Need

8 years ago
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Sleep. Most of us feel like we don’t get enough and that includes our kids.

I know when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m cranky, short tempered and can’t focus. I’m just at work and then carting my child around to various activities. I can’t imagine having to pay attention to teachers at school, coaches at practice, putting forth the effort in practices and then having to do homework on top of all that.

I can remember every year, being so excited about the first day of school that I just couldn’t sleep. Even with my “first day outfit” picked out, hanging on my closet door, my mind would just swirl with excitement of a new year.

And then there were many other nights when I just couldn’t get to sleep. I would be thinking about tests coming up, projects to be done, wonder if I had done everything I could do to try and make good grades and, as a result, make my parents proud. Most of my worries were because I wasn’t the best student, and I was so afraid of the disappointment my parents would feel.

A child?s empty bedroom

Now, I’m not an expert on sleep and wanted to make sure I had all my facts straight so I headed to two people I knew could help me out, Linda Nicolini, our school counselor and Dr. Shannon Murphy, a pediatrician friend of mine.

During my brief discussions with both ladies, I came to realize that most of the general “I don’t feel good” and “my stomach hurts” symptoms I see on a daily basis are probably from lack of sleep. I’ve assumed this for the past five years as a school nurse, but now I really do see it.

When I first called Dr. Murphy and asked her about this subject, one of the first things she told me was that parents underestimate the amount of sleep kids need. She then went on and gave me some basic estimates and guidelines.

Around the age of 5, kids need around eleven hours of sleep. Now, let’s say your child wakes up around 6:30 am on a normal school day. That means your child needs to be asleep around 7:30 pm. Wow! I had never really thought of that. And what if you work full-time and don’t pick up your child until around 5:30 or 6pm? That’s not a lot of time to feed your child dinner, bathe or even sit down and do a work sheet with them.

Around age 8, kids need ten hours of sleep. Age 11, they need nine and half hours. Age 14, they need nine hours. And finally, the age of 18 is where kids can survive on eight hours of sleep.

All kids are not the same and some kids may need more and some may need less. You, as a parent, know your kids the best and should know if they are getting the right amount of sleep.

When kids don’t get enough sleep they become cranky, irritable and tend to pick on others according to Mrs. Nicolini. They may fall asleep in class, have headaches, stomachaches or cry and want to go home in the younger grades. She has even had kids just want some quiet time in her office. I’ve had kids that just need a little time to lay down in my room at the parents request, which clues me in that they were just up late the night before.

If your child is having trouble getting to sleep, here are some tips from my two experts. Having a routine is the best way to cue your body that it’s time for sleep. Start with a bath. Bathing is a relaxing way to begin the process. Reading in bed is a great way to make the transition smooth, whether your child can read alone or have a parent or older sibling read to them.

Soft music, listening to a book on tape or a sound machine is another good way to relax your mind and get ready for slumber. All of those types of bedtime cues can help drown out any other noises in the house.

Since we work at a private Catholic school, Mrs. Nicolini suggests praying to fall asleep if you’re having trouble. This is what I usually advise my daughter to do. For example, the repetition of praying the Rosary can be quite relaxing and rewarding spiritually. Of course, you could say whatever prayer you’d like.

One word of warning as far as sleep cues are concerned, Dr. Murphy couldn’t stress enough that kids do not need to use the television to help them fall asleep. The imagery is much too stimulating to their brains.

With the school year fast approaching, I’m working on getting my family back to the routine of a decent bedtime and getting up early as the school bell will be ringing very soon.

Susan Ward writes SueMac on the Run.