Summer’s right around the corner—I spent my weekend getting my kids’ summer gear washed up and ready for play (hooray!). But all the sunshine and springtime fun makes it easy to forget that there are still plenty of nasty cold and flu bugs circulating this time of year. In fact, until the end of May, we’re still officially in flu season. (Yep, that’s right, it runs October through May.)
Want to keep kids healthy enough to enjoy spring? Time-honored tactics like hand washing and vitamin-popping can help, but here’s a little-known secret to a superstar immune system that’s simple, enjoyable, and free: sleep. And all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t make up for lost hours in the sack. That’s because adequate sleep supports a healthy immune system—and sleep deprivation handicaps your immune response, leaving you (or your kids) more susceptible to the virus du jour.
An increasing body of research (including this study) is highlighting sleep’s vital role in immune function. Just how does sleep pump up the immune system? During sleep, the body releases infection-fighting proteins called cytokines that play a role in fighting infection and inflammation. During periods of sleep deprivation, infection fighting cells are reduced.
Is your kiddo getting enough sleep to ward off bugs? Take a peek at these general guidelines. If your child is falling short, move bedtime earlier by 20-30 minutes per night. This small change adds up to a couple extra hours of sleep per week, which may put your family on the path to a healthier summer.
One to Four Weeks Old: 15-16 hours per day
One to Twelve Months Old: 14-15 hours per day
One to Three Years Old: 12-14 hours per day
Three to Six Years Old: 10-12 hours per day
Six to Ten Years Old: 9-11 hours per day
Ten to Eighteen Years Old: 8-10 hours per day