Sweet Dreams—Promoting Healthy Sleep Habits

Have you ever hit the snooze button (a few times) before getting out of bed? Have you ever nodded off to sleep during a lecture, meeting or woken up on the “wrong side of the bed” and been cranky throughout the day? We have all been there at some one point or another. Our children are not immune to these effects of sleep deprivation either.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common—and easily fixable—public health issues in the U.S. today,” Judith Owens, MD, FAAP

Why is sleep so important? Why should we care about whether or not we get 6 hours versus 8 hours of sleep? Getting adequate rest has been proven to be critical for many different aspects of our mental health, physical health, and safety. It’s been shown that people who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school, are more irritable, more prone to infections, and, get this, even hungrier and more prone to obesity! Along with all of this, deep sleep helps the body trigger the release of specific hormones that promote normal growth and development in our children.


I could keep preaching about the benefits of good sleep, but I think you probably get the gist of it. As I sit here reading these articles and writing this post I feel a little guilty sipping my second dose of caffeine of the day. I have frequently needed this extra boost to help my drooping eyes and waning energy. How can we start to promote healthy sleep for both us and our little, big fighters?

First, let’s look at the recommended amount of sleep for different age groups:

  • Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health
  • Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health
  • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health
  • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health
  • Adults >18 years of age should sleep at least 8 hours per 24 hours

Now that those recommendations are clear, how do we actually make this a reality for our children AND for ourselves? The first thing is to make “healthy sleep hygiene” a priority. This means simply keeping the bedroom a sacred sleeping place (i.e. no TVs, video games, computers, etc.). Also, turn off the screens (TV, phones, computers) at least 30 minutes before bed, and dim the lights if possible. This helps wind the body and mind down. Building habits while our children are young is crucial for making healthy sleep hygiene a lasting skill. A helpful way of building this habit in our little ones is using the 4 B’s of Bedtime: Bath, Brushing (teeth), Book, and Bed.

Our busy lives make it easy to fill our days to the max with activities and events, but as important as these things are, sleep is just as important. Helping develop healthy habits in our little, big fighters lives is needed and this starts with us making these changes in our lives first! Tomorrow I’ll start by just having one cup of coffee!

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Meredith Merkley

More about Meredith Merkley

Meredith Merkley was born in the mountains of Colorado, but moved to Ohio, New Mexico and then Arizona. She has a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. Afterwards, she packed her bags again and moved to Ohio where she graduated as a D.O. from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently completing her second year of pediatric residency.