It’s 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night. Your eyes are heavy, and you’re reading your bright-eyed 3-year-old the fifth (or is it the sixth?) storybook before bed. Your teenage daughter, who just arrived home from a play rehearsal that went late, peeks in and asks if you were aware that your husband fell asleep in front of the TV while your 7-year-old is still up watching cartoons on her tablet. If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America poll, many American children are missing out on much-needed sleep, especially on school nights. Now that summer is coming to a close and school is about to start again, this may be a good time to reevaluate whether your family is getting enough sleep each night.
According to the NSF poll, parents estimated that their children slept less than the recommended amount, logging 8.9 hours for kids aged 6-10, 8.2 hours for kids aged 11-12, 7.7 hours for kids aged 13-14, and 7.1 hours for kids aged 15-17. The NSF recommends 10-11 hours per night for kids 6-10 years old, and 8.5-9.5 hours per night for kids 11-17 years old. 1-2 hours of lost sleep per night can add up pretty quickly.
So what is causing later bedtimes and the lack of quality sleep for our kids? How is this lack of sleep affecting them? There are many variables causing less quality sleep for the modern family. The use of technological devices leading up to bedtime, school night homework and activities, and even diet affect sleep. The NSF poll states, “Parents report that nearly three out of four (72 percent) children ages 6-17 have at least one electronic device in the bedroom while they are sleeping.” That statistic isn’t even counting the toddler and preschool age groups, or the parents, whose sleep is probably affected as well. A study reported in the May 2003 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that using technological devices with a bright display for an “exciting task,” such as playing a video game or watching a suspenseful movie, decreases the body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is a natural hormone in the body that is responsible for stimulating and regulating sleep patterns so it is probably best to limit the use of tablets, electronic readers, computers, televisions, and cell phones before bed.
As a parent myself, I can attest to my children’s weekday extracurricular activities and homework causing later bedtimes for all of us, not just for them. Extracurricular activities following school can postpone dinnertime, completion of homework, and previously established bedtime routines. My fourth grader usually gets to bed 1-2 hours later on nights she has dance class. My 13-year-old nephew has weeknight baseball games that last sometimes past 10:00 pm.
Sleep is very important for healthy brain development and maintenance. Our brains are still developing through adolescence. No matter what our age, our brains need to mentally detoxify and recalibrate during sleep in order to maintain good mental health and efficiency. If children and teens do not get enough quality sleep, they risk decreased academic performance and concentration, i.e. falling asleep in class or falling asleep while driving. Many behavioral problems, like ADHD, and mental health problems, like anxiety and/or depression can also be linked to sleep deprivation.**
So what can we do to improve our kids’ amount and quality of sleep?
1. Talk to your kids and/or your partner about the importance of sleep and the benefits it provides.
2. Set bedtimes for everyone in your household, including you.
3. Limit use of technology at least an hour before bedtime.
4. Provide your kids with a comfortable sleep environment (comfy bed, dim light or no light, and cooler room temperature).
5. Do not overbook your kids with multiple extracurricular activities, and try to schedule activities earlier in the evening, or try to do homework earlier in the day.
6. Most importantly, set a good example for your kids. If you have good sleep habits, they will most likely follow suit.
For more information on the effects of sleep deprivation, check out my previous blog post, “Surprise! Sleep Deprivation Affects Emotional Intelligence.”
** Refer to the following links: