It’s common for your 8-12 year old to start struggling with sleep. Often parents find their children at this age take longer to get to bed. Perhaps it’s taking them longer to fall asleep or suddenly they are showing bouts of anxiety and fear about going to bed alone. At this age adequate sleep is necessary as children are growing, becoming increasingly active in school and after-school activities, and need well rested minds and bodies to strengthen their cognitive ability, memory, alertness, and overall mood and behaviour for school and learning. Within my practice I see children at this age suddenly start to sleep less even though their bodies still need the same amount of sleep - 10-11 hours of sleep per night.
With the average age of puberty for girls being between 10 and 12 years of age and boys 12-16 years of age, it’s during this age group that there is a shift in their natural sleep rhythms – their circadian rhythms. Melatonin – our sleep hormone – is secreted later at night. This hormone is what signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep. While this may not happen as early as 8 years of age, when the shift does take place it can be biologically impossible for our tweens and teens to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime even if we want them to.
Unpredictable Routine with Poor Sleep Environment
This is the age where activities, sports, and homework increase. Bedtimes begin to be pushed out too late, and over-scheduling leaves children overtired and exhausted making it more difficult for them to fall asleep. Also technology is finding it’s way into children’s bedrooms and sleep is being traded for staying up-to-date socially and catching up on their favourite TV show or YouTube channel.
Anxiety and Bedtime Fears
Fears are becoming more realistic and anxious thoughts about school work, social environments, family difficulties, or even as serious as illness and death can keep our children’s brains busy and worrisome, making it very difficult for them to fall asleep.
Age Appropriate Sleep Solutions That Will Help Your Child Fall Asleep Easier
The first step towards healthier sleep for any individual is to start promoting proper sleep hygiene and this definitely includes children as well.
Combat childhood anxieties and fears before bedtime with communication and relaxation techniques. It’s also important to take the pressure of sleep off of both of you. It’s a stressful cycle that can begin. Your child will stress before bedtime because he knows he’s going to have a hard time falling asleep and then you and he may have conflict about it, stressing you both out where no one is falling asleep any time soon. They often feel the pressure when we are just telling them to go to bed. Explain to him why he needs to sleep and then incorporate different techniques that can help him get there.
It’s also important to monitor parental involvement. Try and step back and look at the situation. Is your involvement too much? Are you the last obstacle standing in the way of your child sleeping soundly at night? If so, you aren’t alone and putting a consistent plan in place can help you all sleep better at night.
Lastly avoid Band-aid solutions like melatonin. The first route to take before any sleep aid supplements should be behavioural and emotional sleep modifications.