Sleep Awareness Month


For something that we spend nearly one-third of our life doing, many Americans remain unaware of the importance of good quality sleep. Not only that, but it’s common for people to sabotage their own ability to get a good night’s sleep without even realizing it.

Consumption of caffeine within several hours of bedtime, unrelenting stress, and spending a lot of time in front of any type of electronic screen are just some of the things that can make it difficult to consistently achieve deep and restful sleep. In fact, light from all external sources interrupts your natural sleep and wake cycle called the circadian rhythm.

Adults and Sleep

While sleep researchers agree that adults should aim for seven to eight hours of restful and uninterrupted sleep every night, they understand that isn’t always possible. Rather than state a specific number of minimum hours for adults, researchers recommend that they consider how they feel after getting various amounts of sleep. For example, some people may feel ready to tackle the day after six hours of sleep.  Others would have difficulty keeping their eyes open throughout the day. Here are some specific questions for you to consider:

  • What have you noticed is the ideal hours of sleep for you to feel happy, healthy, and productive?
  • Do you require caffeine or other stimulants to remain alert during the day? If so, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.
  • Do you have significant sleep problems such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or nightmares? These issues often require outside intervention from a sleep specialist to overcome.
  • Are you overweight and at risk of any specific disease related to sleep? Keep in mind that sleep apnea, which causes people to stop breathing several times per minute while sleeping, is significantly more common in overweight and obese individuals.
  • Do you frequently feel sleepy while you drive? This is dangerous both for you and everyone else on the road. If you feel too tired to drive, call for a ride or take public transportation so you can go home and get more rest.

Answering these questions honestly will help you determine how much sleep you should ideally get every night.

Children and Sleep

Children from infancy through late adolescence need sufficient sleep to grow and develop properly. Kids who regularly get too little sleep experience problems with a weakened immune system, struggle more at school and have more issues controlling their behavior. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children develop sleep habits by age five that continues throughout their life. If you have children, helping them develop sleep habits and setting a good example around sleep yourself is crucial to get them off to a healthy start in life.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report recommending the desired number of hours that children in each age group should receive. Infants, especially newborns, typically sleep between 16 and 18 hours every day. This drops to 12 to 14 hours for toddlers, 11 to 12 hours for preschoolers, 10 hours for kids in elementary school, and nine hours for teenagers.

How to Teach Healthy Sleep Habits to Your Child

There’s no doubt that getting a young child to sleep can test the patience of his or her parents. Just when exhaustion from your own long day sets in, your child decides to throw a tantrum or simply refuse to go to bed by attempting to stall you in any way possible. Kids are not mature enough yet to realize that sleep is essential for good cognitive, emotional, and physical health. All they seem to focus on is that going to bed means possibly missing something exciting.

Familiar routines and consistency in enforcing rules help your child learn that he or she should go to bed each night without giving you a hard time about it. A typical routine for a child who has not yet started school might include brushing teeth, putting pajamas on, and choosing a story for you to read. You might also consider a nightlight if your child seems afraid of the dark. Once you have completed the bedtime routine with your child, give him or her a kiss or hug and say good night. You should leave the bedroom at this point, even if your child protests.

You’re Teaching Sleep Independence

As your child gets older, gradually cut back your involvement with a nighttime routine. This helps your son or daughter learn age-appropriate independence in small steps. By the time your child is in the middle elementary years, he or she should not need much prompting from you to get ready for bed and go to sleep. Every time you praise an independent effort, it makes your child want to do even better the next time. Kids have a natural tendency to try to please and they love to feel that their parents see them as growing up.

If either you or your child struggle with sleep issues, reach out to your child’s pediatrician or your primary care provider at UPMC Western Maryland. Your doctor or child’s pediatrician can help you develop new sleep strategies you hadn’t considered or refer to a sleep specialist if necessary.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.