Are Your Children Getting Enough Sleep?

The consensus is that school children could have a few more hours of sleep

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Boy sleepingMost parents realize that their children need a good night’s sleep for good health and academic performance, but few children sleep enough, as they do not need help for special needs individuals. Only one-fifth of children and teens get enough sleep each night, according to a study released in February 2019 by author Gregory Knell, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at UT Health School of Public Health in Dallas. The National Sleep Foundation’s website states that only 15% of teens sleep enough on school nights.

“Sleep is the most important thing you can do for mental health,” said Joyce Wagner Ph.D at Restoration Counseling of Rochester. “The No. 1 intervention for all mental health disorders is to go to bed and get up at the same time. Kids need the structure and routine. Their bodies like it.”

Children and teens who do not get enough sleep at night can have more problems the next day at school.

Meghann Peters, registered polysomnography technician with Sleep and Wellness Centers of Western New York, said that lack of sleep can foster behavior that “mimics attention deficit disorder, but it’s not. It’s lack of sleep. It can affect mood and cognitive ability.”

Sleep and Wellness Centers operate offices in several Upstate New York locations

Peters added that the long-term effects of chronic lack of sleep in children can include obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Peters said that children and teens need more sleep than adults — 10 to 12 hours, compared with eight for adults — because their growth hormones are released during sleep.

Peters recommended several steps for improving sleep:

• “Parents need to have children and teens go to bed earlier. They need a set bedtime.

• “The parent needs to make sure they set up a controlled environment: a bedroom that’s cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Turn off the radio. Sleeping to music isn’t helping you.

• “Kids should avoid caffeine. Even chocolate has enough to affect sleep.

• “Have a set bedtime and don’t deviate from it unless you absolutely have to.

• “Especially for younger children, develop a routine like reading for them. Spend 10 to 30 minutes with them before bedtime.

• “Do not let your child watch something inappropriate like a scary movie, as that will tend to increase nightmares.

• “If the child is still tired and they’re getting 10 to 11 hours of sleep, contact the doctor, as the child may have sleep apnea caused by enlarged tonsils or certain facial features.

Elizabeth Murray, pediatrician at Golisano Children’s Hospital, also offered suggestions:

• “Do your best to have a set schedule, especially on the weekend. It’s easy to have a sleep-a-thon over the weekend but it doesn’t help when the weekday is back. Teens often have after school sports and want to go out with friends and spend time with family. Parents should work with school districts to set a better schedule, but with changes in childcare and after school activities, it becomes complicated.

• “Make sure they have technology out of their room as much as possible. We know teenagers need that social community and feeling of connection with peers but they shouldn’t text all hours of the night. It’s difficult if they feel they’re missing out, but get all tech out of the bedroom. No child should have a TV in their room. Get tablets, phones and computers out of the sleep space. Avoid screen time in the hour before sleep.

Elizabeth Murray, pediatrician at Golisano Children’s Hospital, also offered suggestions:

• “If they have more lights than a nightlight, get it out of the room. Don’t put up Christmas lights around the room or things like that. You need dark, cool and quiet, unless you use white noise.

• “If kids are having problems sleeping, we ask if there’s anything about their bedroom that bothers them. We often hear, ‘I hate the mirror’ or ‘The shadow behind the door bothers me’ or ‘I don’t like the lamp.’ Ask if there’s anything you can do to ‘feng shui’ the room.

• “Check the mattress. If you want to check if you have to do latex mattresses need to be flipped, you can check it out here!

• “See if something is troubling them socially.”