What a Good Night’s Sleep Really Looks Like for Children

The benefits of a good night’s sleep are so plentiful, it’s easy to miss the full picture. Focus only on making sure children get enough sleep, and you miss the importance of a regular bedtime routine. Tuck your children in at the right time (or go to bed early) without putting electronics away first, and your family still misses the benefits of deeply restorative rest during which the brain and body can truly power down.

For the children we serve at Pajama Program – the most at-risk, highly vulnerable children in our communities – a good night’s sleep is even more critical. This is why we work to close the 24-hour Good Day Loop for every child, starting with a loving bedtime. Learn what really makes for a good night’s sleep and how Pajama Program is protecting loving bedtimes for children everywhere.

Start by Ensuring the Right Amount of Sleep
Getting too little sleep has negative health effects for all of us, but it’s most damaging for children. According to sleep expert Kathleen McGrath, from age four to six, children need between 10.5 and 11.5 hours of sleep and from age six to twelve, they need about 10 hours. What happens if a child consistently gets too little sleep? This can lead to weight gain, depression, poor concentration and performance, reduced creative ability and lower immunity to diseases later on. All of this is exponentially true for the children we serve.

The good news? Adding just half an hour more of sleep helps children perform better in school. And quality sleep doesn’t just help children feel rested, it contributes to their resilience and ability to self-regulate. For the children Pajama Program supports, every bit of stability and knowledge toward healthy bedtime routines makes a difference and puts them on a better path.

Establish Joyful, Predictable Bedtime Routines
Good days start with a healthy bedtime ritual. At Pajama Program, we work tirelessly to protect the benefits of bedtime for the most vulnerable children in our communities.

Bedtime should always be around the same time. Lynne Kelley, a pediatric psychologist, reminds us that from a developmental-behavioral perspective this is important because sleep is not just about internal rhythms, but self-soothing strategies. NPR reports that irregular bedtimes feel like jet lag to children, and even more so to those we serve who already live with too much chaos in their daily life. And as important as a consistent bedtime is, Kelley says, it turns out order matters even more than time. Children need to do the same thing in the same order each night to get into a healthy pattern. If a child eats and bathes, then reads with an adult, then gets into bed – this can be the beginning of a happy, successful sleep routine.

Need more evidence that bedtime matters? A recent study out of the UK surveying 10,000 children showed that children who have irregular bedtimes are more likely to face behavioral issues like hyperactivity, acting out and being emotionally withdrawn later on. Of course, this means the opposite is true. When we provide our children with a more loving, secure bedtime ritual, we set them up not just for better sleep, but greater success in life. This gives them a sense of comfort, safety and confidence that they can carry with them into the future. The Journal of Sleep Research confirms that quality sleep makes children more optimistic and boosts their self-esteem.

Create a Healthy Sleep Environment
A bedroom is so much more than a physical space. It’s a place to rest, dream and recharge for the next day. Author and parenting expert Michelle Borba writes that children and young adults should be encouraged to put their things away before going to sleep and keep their bedroom fresh, clean and uncluttered. Caregivers can also encourage children to be intentional about their space by being intentional about their own. All of these things help the brain adjust to bedtime and instill in children a respect for sleep that they can take with them into adulthood, of which the health benefits – physical, mental and emotional – are many.

Similarly, the pajamas and books we provide children are so much more than cloth and paper; they are magical tools we use to give children the real gift of unconditional love and expanded possibilities. And when we can’t impact children in their own environment, we bring them to us to share in the joy of reading. Learn about Pajama Program Reading Centers.

Join Pajama Program as we wake up the world to the part that bedtime, not just sleep, plays in a child’s 24-hour Good Day Loop, and ask us about how you can protect every child’s right to a loving good night.

Help us support good nights for good days for all children, everywhere.