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  • Tips to Help Your Child – and You – Catch More ZZ’s

Published on March 19, 2014

Tips to Help Your Child – and You – Catch More ZZ’s


SIOUX FALLS (March 1, 2014) – Sleep – those sought after and sometimes elusive ZZ’s. As Americans, we just don’t seem to get enough, and this can be true for adults, as well as children and teens.

In fact, in the United States, 25 to 40 percent of children have sleep disorders, said Dr. Bryce Gammeter, Psychiatrist with Avera Medical Group Psychiatry Associates Sioux Falls.

“If your kid isn’t sleeping, you aren’t sleeping either,” Dr. Gammeter said. Feeling sleepy during the daytime is the one “hard and fast” proven consequence of sleep deprivation. Yet research suggests much more far-reaching effects.

“Research indicates that sleep plays an important role in our restoration and healing,” Dr. Gammeter said. It’s also believed that sleep impairs cognitive function, like verbal fluency and creativity, as well as learning and memory. Sleep can cause behavior disruptions, like impulsivity and the “naughty tireds” that children display when they’re at the end of their rope.

How much sleep is too much, or too little? New parents should realize that their newborn baby will need to sleep away most of the day – 15 to 18 hours. There’s really no such thing as getting “days and nights mixed up” at that age. It’s a round-the-clock cycle of sleeping, eating and diaper changes intermingled with a few hours of interactions.

By the time a child reaches toddlerhood, sleep needs are about 12-14 hours a day, between night and naptime. School-age children need 10-11 hours per night, but most children average about nine. Teens need eight to nine hours a night, yet average only about six and a half.

While some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, stem from physical or structural issues, the majority of sleep problems fall into the realm of behavioral health.

A sleep disorder might stand on its own, such as insomnia or night terrors. Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders involve staying up later and later, until eventually the sleep cycle shifts, and the individual is up all night and sleeping during the day. “We see this in adolescents,” Dr. Gammeter said, citing a prevalence rate of 7 percent.

Or, poor sleep might be a symptom of another behavioral health disorder or developmental condition, such as depression, anxiety or ADHD.

It’s pretty obvious when younger children aren’t getting enough sleep. They’re up crying, asking for a drink of water, wanting to read stories, or otherwise disturbing the family’s nighttime routine. With older children and teens, parents should watch for signs such as habitually falling asleep in the car or at school, napping after school, craving caffeine, sleeping all weekend, or doing poorly in school.

“Sleep hygiene” is the first-resort, gold-standard treatment of sleep disorders, and it involves easy tips that parents can put to use – starting tonight. While sleep hygiene tactics might not work overnight, they soon lead to improvement in the child’s sleep routine.

Have your child go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day. Stop any stimulating activities an hour before bed, including using a smartphone, tablet or device; watching TV; or playing video games. Instead, have your child spend an hour in quiet activities, such as reading, listening to music, or saying bedtime prayers. “A teenage girl might think that shutting off her phone is like cutting off her left arm, but it is very important to let your body go into sleep mode. You can’t just shut it off,” Dr. Gammeter said.

Try to redirect negative thoughts about sleep, such as “I’m never going to get to sleep,” or “I’m never going to be able to get up in the morning,” he advised.

If the above tips don’t work, you can try over-the-counter melatonin – the “sleep hormone.” Dr. Gammeter says that research shows it’s safe, and it does not interfere with the body’s natural production of melatonin. Taking it about two hours before bedtime is the best approach. Histamines, such as Benadryl, are another over-the-counter option, only if sleep hygiene alone does not work. Choose histamine-only products, and not those that also contain Tylenol or ibuprofen. Sleep hygiene should continue to play an important role alongside any medications.

Also, ensure that any underlying conditions are treated, such as anxiety, depression or ADHD. “Children with anxiety might be lying in bed, fretting about the next day instead of sleeping,” Dr. Gammeter said.

Parents also can help their children get a good night’s sleep by setting an example. “If mom and dad don’t sleep well themselves and don’t have a good sleep routine, the children in the home aren’t going to have a good sleep routine, either,” Dr. Gammeter said.

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