Is Your Child Getting Enough ZZZZZs?
How to Know and What to Do
This article was originally published in TulsaKids’ April 2019 issue
Getting enough good quality sleep is very important for all of us. However, it’s especially essential for young children. Sleep directly impacts their physical and mental development. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged children require nine to 11 hours of sleep nightly. Getting ample good quality sleep is just as important as a healthy diet and their safety. Yet, many parents don’t make it a priority. The consequences of sleep deprivation can last a lifetime. On the other hand, good sleep habits can help prevent many learning and behavioral problems. It also leads to improved physical health.
Unfortunately, sleep disturbances are common in school-age children. Lack of good sleep may actually be one of the contributing causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It can also contribute to mood swings and impaired cognitive functioning. These things can affect comprehension and make learning at school difficult. Sleep problems need to be solved. Children do not just outgrow them.
It can often be difficult to recognize when children aren’t getting enough sleep. When adults are tired, we slow down and get drowsy. Children, however, may do the exact opposite. They may even appear wired and hyperactive. Soon, the child will likely become fussy and cranky. It is difficult for children in these states to focus and concentrate. It can also be a challenge to put them to bed. Therefore, a well-rested child is often easier to put to bed than an overtired one.
It can be difficult to achieve these nine to 11 hours of sleep in our busy world. Many children are involved in organized sports or other extracurricular activities. Homework often needs to be completed too. Factor in time for dinner and baths, and there isn’t much time left over for relaxation before an appropriate bedtime.
Moreover, many working parents find that they have to get by with less than the amount of recommended sleep. They mistakenly believe that it’s not too harmful for their children to do the same. However, not getting enough regular sleep can lead to depression, headaches, obesity and high blood pressure.
Children who get adequate sleep enjoy many health benefits. They frequently perform and behave better at school. They have healthier immune systems, lower blood pressure, superior memory and better mental health. Improving sleep in children with ADHD can help them perform better in school and improve their interactions with friends.
Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made in order to balance life, and ensure that children are receiving enough sleep. When one of my sons was in the third grade, he was playing organized baseball. His games were starting late enough in the evenings on school nights that we weren’t getting home until 11 p.m. Even when we managed to get homework done before the games, this was putting us to bed too late. It didn’t allow time for the proper sleep for our family, so we sadly ended the baseball.
The following are some tips to help ensure that your children will develop good sleep habits and get sufficient sleep:
1. Avoid all screen time for an hour before bed. Screen time can lead to many issues at bedtime. Children may become resistant to going to bed, and they may experience anxiety while trying to fall asleep. This means avoiding television, computers, tablets, video games and anything else with an electronic screen.
2. The child’s bedroom should be cool, quiet and dark.
3. Don’t allow children to consume caffeine, especially in the afternoons and evenings.
4. A bedtime around 7 to 8 p.m. should provide enough hours of sleep for most school-aged children. Each child has his or her own individual needs, but this is a good general rule of thumb.
5. Remember that you are a role model for your children. Allow your children to witness you making your own sleep a priority. This may mean that you don’t stay up late with your middle school child helping him finish his project that was put off until the last minute.
6. Make sure your child is getting some physical activity. Do this outside when possible. The fresh air and sunshine are beneficial as well.
7. Keep toys out of the bed. A teddy bear or security blanket can be helpful for easing separation anxiety, but don’t have more than one or two of these items.
8. Don’t overschedule for your child. Lessons and sports can be valuable for children. However, be sure you are allowing time for homework and relaxation.
9. Check in with your child’s teacher. Find out if there are any issues with focus, concentration or behavior. Sleep deprivation often shows up in these areas.
10. Establish a bedtime routine. A common routine is brushing teeth, reading a book and turning out the lights.
It’s crucial to begin developing good sleep habits at a young age. The mental and physical benefits will last a lifetime. Visit with your child’s pediatrician if you suspect your child may not be sleeping well. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Sleep Apnea can cause sleep disturbances, and the doctor may wish to screen for them. She may also provide additional suggestions for your individual child.