How Sleep Can Improve a Child's Mental Health

Rachel Kauffman
May 9, 2023
Blog, Mental Health & Wellness, Student Health
4 Minute Read

How Sleep Can Improve a Child’s Mental Health

You would think that after running around all day, children would be tuckered out and ready for bed. But sometimes, they stare wide-eyed at the glow-in-the-dark stars on their ceiling rather than falling asleep. 

Unfortunately, catching some zzzs is usually one of our last priorities. It’s estimated that 40% of adolescents and 25-50% of children experience sleep problems. Considering how important sleep is for little ones (and grumpy teenagers), that’s a scary number to think about! Whether you’re a concerned parent, teacher, or school nurse, this blog will explore the benefits of sleep for children and how to establish healthy routines that can improve sleep habits and mental health.   

How Much Sleep Do Children Need? 

The average teen only gets 7-7 ¼ hours of sleep. In reality, they should get somewhere between 8-10 hours each night. So, how much sleep do children need? 

Here are some recommendations for sleep within a full 24 hours, including naps: 

  • 0-2 months  | 16-18 hours 
  • 2 months-1 year  | 14-16 hours 
  • 1-3 years old  | 14 hours 
  • 3-5 years old  | 10-12 hours 
  • 5-10 years old  | 10-12 hours 
  • 6-13 years old  | 9-11 hours 
  • 14-18 years old  | 8-10 hours 

Remember, every child will be different. They may need a little more or less than the outline above. It’s also important to note that going to bed late, even if you get the right amount of sleep, can result in lower-quality rest. 

The Importance of Sleep in Child Development 

When a child is sleepy, adults notice. Kids may don a grumpy expression and refuse to eat their morning oatmeal, or they can’t finish their math homework for the life of them. What we can’t see, however, is how crucial sleep is for brain development. 

While sleeping, we recuperate the energy our brains and bodies use during the day. When we don’t sleep enough, we reach a state of sleep deprivation, affecting our moods and ability to cope. Over time, this lack of sleep can lead to behavioral, cognitive, and emotional concerns. It can also worsen the symptoms of existing disorders like depression or anxiety. 

According to a 2022 study, children aged 9-10 who got insufficient sleep had more mental health and behavioral issues than those who got the right amount of sleep. Even scarier, these issues continued at a two-year follow-up. 

Kids who get the right amount of sleep: 

  • Have better focus and problem-solving abilities. 
  • Can learn and remember new things. 
  • Become more attuned to making good decisions and relationships. 
  • Have better energy levels that last throughout the day. 
  • Have a more creative mind. 

Tips to Improve Kids’ Sleep Hours 

If you notice a child isn’t getting enough sleep, whether they’re falling asleep during class or more irritable as of late, it’s time to make sleep a priority. Educators and school nurses can talk about the importance of sleep with their students and share tips on improving a kid’s sleep hours with parents.  

Here are a few strategies to try:  

  • Implement a sleep routine. “This helps your body to wind down every night so your body can go from an alert state to a calm state,” says D&G Wellness Consulting. Routines can include taking a bath at night, brushing teeth, reading a bedtime story, or cuddling with stuffed animals. 
  • Establish a bedtime: If a child doesn’t have a set bedtime, perhaps it’s time to implement one! Say no when they ask to stay up and watch that episode of Survivor with you. Instead, read them a bedtime story and stress the importance of getting a good night’s rest for their brain. 
  • Turn off screens. Blue light from TVs, computers, tablets, and phone screens encourages the body to stay awake. Turn off all screens an hour before bedtime. 
  • Try meditation. Many apps can lead you through meditation, bedtime stories, and sleep sounds. Some apps offer it free to educators by signing up with a school email. 
  • Practice breathing. Breathing allows you to reach a calmer state which helps with your sleep. As D&G Wellness Consulting recommends, “Before bed, inhale for four counts, hold your breath for seven, and exhale through your mouth like you’re blowing through a straw for eight.” 
  • Adjust the bedroom. The state of a bedroom can overstimulate the brain at bedtime. Keep a clean room, free of distractions. Add mood lighting, sounds, and even scents to help create a relaxing atmosphere. 
  • Regularly exercise. Time spent in natural daylight and consistent exercise can help tire out the body. Encourage children to play outside and incorporate active hobbies like bike riding, jumping rope, or soccer. 

Encouraging proper sleep is just one way to support children’s mental health. Download our free eBook to learn more tips and strategies for prioritizing students’ mental health both in and out of the classroom.