We’ve all heard that one of the best things we can do for our health is to get adequate sleep. But we all know as adults that in our busy lives this is one of our most overlooked areas. We let things cut into our sleep time to catch up on things that remain undone during the day. We have every intention to catch up on sleep with the next weekend, but that never happens. Plus, researchers tell us, you cannot catch up on lost sleep. If we want to treat ourselves like this, that’s one thing, but letting our kids slip into this habit can affect them profoundly. With the distractions of television, extracurricular activities, internet, video games and so forth it is easy for bedtimes to push later and later.
Getting adequate sleep is even more important for children and teenagers than it is for parents. According to WebMD, elementary-age children need 10-11 hours of sleep per night, and teenagers need 8-9 hours per night. Their bodies and brains are in rapid development which leads to higher levels of metabolism. Their energy levels are drained, and without adequate sleep children just cannot perform at their best. Their bodies become more susceptible to illness because sleep support rejuvenation of the immune system through the production of certain substances by the body. Sleep-deprived children are harder to wake up in the morning, which adds stress to the morning rituals of getting everyone out the door. The obvious problems of moodiness, sleepiness and inattentiveness make their way into the classroom and affect the learning environment. Some studies even attribute symptoms of ADD and ADHD to sleep deprivation. Getting sufficient sleep may reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes, according to a study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
How can you ensure that your child gets the right amount of rest? First, all the way through your teenager’s years, it is very important to establish and stick with a regular bedtime. Look at the hours recommended above for your child’s age range, figure out what time they should wake up for school every day, and calculate an approximate bedtime. For elementary-age children, this is probably sometime around 8 pm. Younger children may also benefit from a short nap right after school to recharge before evening. Middle school kids could move up to 9 pm, and maybe high-schoolers have a 10 pm bedtime. Stick with this bedtime on weekends, holidays, and even in the summer with rare exception like maybe a sleepover. Kids and adults sleep and perform so much better when they establish and stick to a habit. Limit caffeine, which can lead to restlessness and trouble falling asleep. For younger children in particular, a bedtime routine will help them develop good sleep habits and reduce the stress associated with bedtime. Be aware of what your child watches on television because disturbing images or storylines can cause nightmares. Discourage sleeping in the parent’s bed because this disrupts sleep patterns for child and parents alike. The child’s bedroom should be conducive to a sound sleep. Anything which generates excessive noise or light, such as computers, video games or phones on chargers, televisions in the next room, and so forth should be reduced or removed. Particularly for teens, it may be helpful to remove any late-night temptations to converse with their friends from their rooms. Move computers, home phones, and cell phone chargers into shared family rooms. Avoid the late-night cram sessions and project-completion exercises by helping your child manage their workload more efficiently.
Your child’s health and performance in school depends on good sleep more than we realize. Because our children pay so much attention to what we do, be an example to your child and create your own good sleep habits. You’ll be more awake and alert at work, less tired and stressed in the evenings, and your family will benefit from everyone being well rested.