When it comes to sleep, no matter what age, it is a vital aspect to our daily lives that we mainly underestimate, don’t notice, or pay poor attention too. Children within the ages 4-12 are considered in the age group commonly referred to as ‘school-aged children’ which start to show new sleeping patterns and trends in comparison to toddlers. They make up part of the adolescent age group which begins around age 10. Here are some common factors that affect children who are not fully under their parents care 24/7 as they start to mature and spend less hours asleep.
The child’s bed is not your bed
While it is still pretty dangerous to sleep with babies and toddlers in your bed as a parent it is very common and has not been proven to disrupt any sleeping factors. It is different for older children however. The big issue here is comfort. One of the biggest sleep disruptions is the tendency of some children to go into their parents’ room in the middle of the night for comfort. Some kids do this very frequently, and it can have a damaging effect on families and even the relationship between parents. One of the most common factors is that at this stage, the child is beginning to experience nightmares and bad dreams which leaves them feeling lost, alone, and out of place.
If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, you should get him back to his bed as soon as possible. Kids like having these late night interactions with parents, but we should do our best to minimize any reward that they might be getting from them. Don’t have a long conversation and don’t let him climb into bed with you. For kids who really depend on that comfort and aren’t going to fall asleep without it, it’s much better for parents to walk kids back to their room and then sit in a chair next to the bed to keep them company until they fall asleep. Children at this age may actually start going to bed a little earlier than they did as toddlers, because they are no longer napping. Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
But that doesn't guarantee that bedtime will be easy. It's also during this age that children may develop what experts call "behavioral insomnia," according to a child sleep expert. Parents of small children may be familiar with this phenomenon, which occurs when children start testing the limits of bedtime, she said. Little kids may refuse to go to bed by coming up with excuses such as "I need another hug" or "I need a glass of water,". But the most important thing that a parent can do in this case is set limits and be firm in the way that they deal with these young sleep issues. Behavioral insomnia is perpetuated when parents give in to what the kids want.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-age children get from 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Along with the occasional bad dream, children at this age also develop nighttime fears, such as a fear of the dark, or of objects both living and inanimate that they perceive as a threat like monsters under the bed. The reason for these changes in fear is because children also develop wild and creative imaginations.
Kids in this age group spend a lot of their sleep time in slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep (a type of non-REM sleep). Because this type of sleep is so restorative, school-age children are usually very alert during the day. That means that when you see third- or fourth-graders, for example, who fall asleep in school all the time, it's a big red flag that they may not be getting enough sleep at night or there is a problem within the environment in which they are sleeping in.
The most common sleep issues for children around the age of school entry, is creating new limits. Some of them need their parents to make the rules and routines clear. But there are also children with what sleep specialists call “sleep onset association disorder,” in which a child has become habituated to falling asleep only in a certain context, requiring the presence of a parent, or needing to have the TV on, the most common examples. Very anxious children are also often problem sleepers. And then there are children beset by nightmares, night terrors and early morning waking.
Moreover, doctors know that not getting enough sleep can affect every aspect of a child's day. Sleep deprivation affects attention, concentration, decision making and problem solving. It can also make kids moody and even hyperactive.
To ensure that school-age children get enough sleep, it's important that they have a regular sleep schedule on both weekdays and weekends. Bedtimes shouldn't vary between more than 1 or 2 hours from weekday to weekend. If students start school without sunlight exposure, it may hinder their ability to fall asleep at night because the internal clock is lacking its most vital signal. Similar challenges may develop for students in classrooms with little or no natural sunlight, or dimly lit classrooms. We see this a lot in popular culture where the students are instructed to watch a film for a lesson and the teacher has to constantly check for sleeping students.
For most school-age children, it’s an issue of habits and routines, screen time and setting limits. Many of us know, as adults, that we don’t get as much sleep as we should, or that we don’t practice very good “sleep hygiene,” as the experts would say when they advise us to get the screens out of our bedrooms, create regular routines and avoid caffeine too close to bedtime. Making school-age sleep a family priority is a good way to get everyone focused on what really matters: waking up rested and ready to function well, in body and mind.
Sleep Talking and sleepwalking
Many school-age children sleep talk, especially if they’re excited or worried about an event like a holiday or a test. Sleep Talking is nothing to worry about. Calmly talking with your child about whatever is worrying him might help reduce sleep talking. It is an early sign of stress. Sleepwalking happens when your child’s mind is asleep but her body is awake. It sometimes runs in families, and it can also be caused by anxiety or a lack of sleep. Sleepwalking usually doesn’t need treatment, and most children grow out of it as teenagers. Sleepwalking usually happens in the first few hours after falling asleep, when your child is in a deep sleep.
Bed wetting happens when children don’t wake up in the night when they need to use the bathroom. Some children wet the bed because they sleep very deeply. Other children wet the bed because they produce larger than usual amounts of urine at night, or because they have small bladders. Children can’t control bed wetting, and they almost always grow out of it. Reassure your child that bed wetting is normal. It might help to explain in simple terms some of the reasons for bed wetting. It might be a good idea to see the doctor if your child is still wetting the bed regularly at 7-8 years and you’re concerned about how your child will handle sleep-overs or overnight school camps bed wetting is starting to bother or worry your child.
Night terrors and nightmares
Night terrors are when your child suddenly gets very agitated while deeply asleep. They’re less common than nightmares and usually disappear by puberty. Night terrors don’t harm your child, who often won’t remember them in the morning. But they can be scary for you. Night terrors usually happen in the first few hours after falling asleep.
Nightmares are very common in early school-age children, and nightmares are often scary enough to wake them up. As children get older, they get better at understanding that a dream is just a dream. By the age of seven, your child might be able to deal with nightmares without calling you for comfort. Nightmares happen often in the second half of the night, which is when your child dreams the most.
Teeth-grinding and thumb-sucking during sleep
Many children grind their teeth in their sleep. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your child, and it usually doesn’t cause damage. Thumb-sucking can cause dental problems for children older than about five years. If you’re concerned about your child’s teeth-grinding or thumb-sucking, talk to your dentist or your primary care specialist.