If your morning routine at home involves several trips to the bedroom to make sure your child is awake, chances are your Sleeping Beauty isn't getting enough sleep.

While most kids don't spring out of bed every morning, the ones who can regularly wake up without an alarm clock -- or constant reminders from Mom and Dad -- are more likely to be well rested. Sleep patterns in children and adults follow what is known as the circadian rhythm, which determines how easily we fall asleep, stay asleep, wake up in the morning and maintain a level of alertness during the day. Disrupting that rhythm can lead to sleep problems.

The need for a certain amount of sleep is fixed for each person. A typical 6-year-old requires an average of nine to 10 hours per night, although the actual range is seven to 12 hours.

Children who consistently go to bed too late to meet their minimum needs can suffer fatigue, irritability and diminished performance at school.

"American society seems to be built on the theory that sleep is optional," said Dr. Gerald Rosen, medical director for the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Program at Children's Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "Kids lead such scheduled lives and parents seem to think they can forgo sleep, but they can't."

Early to bed, early to rise

Erin Erickson, co-host of the "Mom Enough" weekly podcasts, has two children, Clara, 7, and McKinley, 5. Her goal as a parent "is to get them to bed early enough every night so I don't have to wake them up in the morning."

Both kids are pretty successful at that, said Erickson, but McKinley has always required a lot of sleep. Until the start of kindergarten several weeks ago, he was still taking two-hour naps daily.

"I've noticed a difference when McKinley comes home at the end of the day. He just seems disregulated and has a harder time coping with everyday frustrations," said Erickson. Her son now relies on weekend naps to catch up on his sleep.

Extra sleep time on the weekends is fine for kids, Rosen said, although if they sleep in more than 11/2 to 2 hours past their usual waking time (which is typical for teenagers), they will often find themselves struggling again during the week.

"It's like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. They will always be experiencing sleep deprivation if they are not adhering to their natural rhythm," he said. "So, the consequences of sleeping in too late on weekends can outweigh the benefits."

Plan ahead and act accordingly

The key to a good night's sleep starts well before kids are even ready for bed.

"The bedtime routine ought to be pleasant and have a rhythm to it," said Rosen. "Ideally, it should be a time when parents and kids can spend quality time together without watching TV, which is a stimulant."

Rosen advises parents to remove all other electronic devices -- cellphones, computers and video games -- from the routine beginning around 8 p.m. in order to create space for kids to wind down. When asked how well this idea goes over with teenagers, Rosen agreed it's a conflict most parents don't want to have with teens.

"Teenagers do typically get a second wind during the evening, where they aren't tired and often want to, or need to, stay up late," he said.

Most kids should fall asleep within about 15 minutes. If they are anxious or worried about something, that time can be delayed, but Rosen cautions parents against overemphasizing to the child how they need to go right to sleep.

"When parents become anxious about how much sleep the child is losing by remaining awake, this can feed into anxiety that drives insomnia," he said. "If you suspect your child is anxious about something, check in with them about that before bedtime."

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

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