The ABCs of Sleep

RamosThis fall, children across America will say good-bye to summer camp, put away their swim trunks and tank tops, pack their school backpacks, and bid farewell to staying up late during the week. Well, three out of four is not bad.

Based on recent research published in the September 9 issue of US News & World Report, many children are still staying up late even though a new school year has already started, and it is having a negative impact on their health and performance in school. According to Jodi Mindell, PhD, a psychologist at St Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, and associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, sleep-deprived kids do not perform as well in school, and have trouble maintaining friendships because of poor behavior. Many of these children are being misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), when in fact they are just plain tired.

Children need different amounts of sleep based on their age group, and most parents would probably fail if they were tested on how much sleep a 9-year-old should be getting; they would be shocked when they discovered that the correct answer is 10 hours. In fact, even at the ripe old age of 13, children should still be getting 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep. While many parents of active teenagers would laugh themselves silly at the thought of their son or daughter getting 9 hours of sleep, this amount is indeed how much their bodies need. It appears as if our biological clocks failed to inform American society that the frantic and hectic lifestyle of many families does not allow for an adequate night’s rest.

The following are some tips that you as sleep specialists can share with parents and their children on the effects of too little sleep and ways in which parents can help their children get the required amount of sleep.

• Twenty-five percent of children in the United States suffer from some form of sleep problems. Who is at fault? Believe it or not, many times it is the parents who simply refuse to lay down the law about going to bed. Parents need to provide their children with a routine by setting a standard bedtime and sticking to it, even on the weekends. They should consider staying up past their child’s bedtime as a reward and not the norm. They need to recognize that most kids will want to stretch the limit when it comes to bedtime, but they need to be firm.

• Sleep-deprived children are cranky and this leads to a shortened attention span. While many parents simply assume preteens and teenagers are going to be cranky because “that’s their nature,” sleep-deprived children often do not have the same social skills as their peers who are getting enough sleep. A rested child is often a pleasant child.

• Parents should give their children a chance to settle into a restful state before going to bed. They should not expect their kids to immediately stop what they are doing 5 minutes before bedtime and lay their heads down and go to sleep. Getting children into a sleep state can take as little as 30 minutes and can be accomplished by reading to them or playing a board game in a quiet setting. Forget about watching television even if only for 15 to 30 minutes prior to bedtime since this will further stimulate their minds and make falling asleep more difficult.

• Pick a proper bedtime and add a 15-minute cushion. If parents want their children to be asleep by 9 pm, then they should plan on having them in bed by 8:45 pm. With the number of distractions that occur within the average household, parents will need those 15 minutes in order to hit the planned target. As for distractions, creating a calm and relaxing atmosphere within the house prior to bedtime is a real plus. Turn off the television, radio, and washer and dryer, and, if need be, take the phone off the hook.

A solid building needs a firm foundation. Starting early and training children about how to stick to a standard bedtime will help them later in life. While adults may be able to fake their way through the day assisted by three or four runs to Starbucks, children simply do not know how to handle sleep deprivation and will unfortunately pay the consequences with poor school performance and social skills that are less than desirable.

Tony Ramos, Publisher
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