How much sleep is the right amount for a child? The simple answer is--lots! Experts recommend as much as 11 hours of sleep per night for toddlers. And that’s not counting naptime, which can add another 4 hours of sleep each day. But does it really matter when your child sleeps? Is nighttime sleep more important than naptime? Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California, Los Angeles say it definitely does matter when your child sleeps.
The team of researchers studied 1,930 children between the ages of 0 and 13 years. They gathered information about the children in 1997as a baseline level and again in 2002 and compared the results of 5 years of growth. The results of the study show a definite relationship between children not sleeping enough and being overweight.
The children were divided into two groups. The “younger” group included those between the ages of 0 and 5 years. Children ages 6 through 13 were counted in the “older” group. The study showed that children in the younger group who were not getting enough nighttime sleep at the start of the study had a higher chance of being overweight or obese five years later.
The older group had a different result. Children over 5 who were not getting enough nighttime sleep at the start of the study did not show a higher risk of being overweight five years later. But children in the older group who were not getting enough sleep at the time of the follow-up did have increased risk of obesity.
The study shows that there is a window of time before a child reaches the age of 5 when getting enough sleep is critical to help maintain a healthy weight later in life. Infants and pre-school age children need to be sleeping the recommended length of time at night. Whether or not the children took naps did not affect the likelihood of obesity, which shows that naps are not a substitute for a good night’s sleep.
So how can you tell how much sleep your child needs at night? Think about these factors:
• Does riding in a car almost always make your child fall asleep?
• Do you have to wake your child most mornings?
• Is your child cranky or irritable during the day?