Helpful Mom: Guardian of Sleep

What’s the # 1 thing all new parents want to know?

How do I get my baby to sleep

through the night?!

Of course we can all read the recommendations of this academy or that academy, but ultimately, they are all just guidelines. Suggestions. Ideas. Advice. Research. It’s up to us as parents to take that information and run it through our understanding of our own child, and come up with a plan. It’s not one-size-fits-all, but it does have it’s place in the process.

The interesting thing is that once children finish preschool, it seems the importance of sleep drops down the priority list. We stop reading, asking, searching for information.

Of course there are lots of reasons for this. Overscheduling, overwhelming amounts of homework, lax bedtimes, TV, and cell phones in the bedroom all contribute. So does guilt. We get home late, we want to spend time with the kids, and we’re reluctant to be a hardass with bedtime.

I’m not here to give you the “guaranteed or your money back” solution for getting your children to sleep. We all know that doesn’t exist! My goal is to inspire you to think differently about sleep by offering some not-so-common-sense information about the connection between sleep, brain development, academic performance and emotional stability.

Here’s the what you need to know:

Brain Development. Children’s brains grow and develop while they sleep. There’s a direct correlation between lost sleep and permanent changes in a child’s brain structure.

Emotional Stability. Chronic sleep deprivation (and we’re talking about missing out on 1 hour of sleep for continuous nights), may be the cause of the classic teen and tween characteristics of moodiness, anxiety, depression and binge eating. Lack of sleep is also connected to the rise of ADHD and the obesity epidemic.

Performance Gap. According to research done at Tel Aviv University (and countless other studies showing the same correlation), “a loss of 1 hour of sleep is equivalent to the loss of 2 years of cognitive maturation and development. This means a sleepy 6th grader will perform in class like a mere 4th grader.” YIKES!

Executive Functioning. A tired brain debilitates a child’s ability to use the skills held in the prefrontal cortex. This is the place responsible for Executive Functions such as: goal-directed behaviors, predicting outcomes, perceiving consequences, and impulse control. These things all weaken a child’s capacity to learn during the day.

I know what you’re thinking, Thanks for this depressing article, Talia.

But it’s not all doom-and-gloom. The best part about knowledge is now you can use it. YOU can take back your title as Guardian of Your Child’s Sleep. YOU have the power to change routines, cut-back on over-scheduling, implement rules around cell phone use, and ultimately remove barriers getting in the way of your child getting adequate amounts of sleep on a regular basis. Invite them to be part of the process. Share your knowledge with them. And who knows, maybe you’ll see higher grades, less moodiness and no homework fights before the school year ends!

American Academy of Sleep Medicine Guidelines (updated June 2016):

Infants 4-12 months: 12-16 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps)

Children 1-2 years: 11-14 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps)

Children 3-5 years: 10-13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps)

Children 6-12 years: 9-12 hours of sleep every 24 hours

Teens 13-18 years: 8-10 hours of sleep every 24 hours

Take-Home Tips:

Establish a calming pre-sleep routine. Consider a whole-house rule of no technology starting 30 minutes before bedtime. Dim the lights. Use lavendar spray on pillow cases.

Avoid giving sugary foods/drinks close to bedtime. Be smarter than Big Sugar. Read nutrition labels! Food companies are very good at fooling us into believing that their snacks are “healthy” when the nutrition label lists sugar as one of the top 3 ingredients.

Embrace a mentality that values sleep. Discourage school-aged children from “solving” their dilemma of too much homework by staying up late to finish. Instead, get to the root of the problem by teaching them better organizational/time management skills.

If you are concerned about your child’s emotional health and/or executive function skills, don’t hesitate to reach out for more information about our skill-building groups starting in March 2017!

Be Happy on Purpose, Talia.


Talia Filippelli, LCSW, CHHC, CPT is a licensed psychotherapist, certified holistic health coach, certified personal trainer, and the Chief Happiness Officer at Starr Therapy in Hoboken. She has been featured on CBS News as a mental health expert and was voted a Top Kids Doc by NJ Family Magazine in 2014, 2015 and 2016!

For more information on Talia or Starr Therapy, visit:

Starr Therapy, LLC