It is the start of a new year! No doubt many families are trying to get back into their routines and reinstate healthy and positive behaviors for themselves and their children. If you are like most parents, you probably have a number of resolutions for your family: eating better, keeping to a routine, spending more time together, etc. But consider adding “getting more sleep” to your list.
The number of children in America who are sleep deprived is remarkable. Some researchers suggest that 4 out of every 10 children are not getting enough sleep.
But why is sleep so important?
Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on children’s performance in school, on the playground, and in social and family relationships. Researchers have shown that symptoms of sleep deprivation look a lot like symptoms of ADHD:
- decrease in performance skills, concentration ability, reaction time, and the ability to understand and retain information; or
- increase in memory lapses, accidents and injuries, behavior problems, and mood problems, especially irritability.
It is up to us, as parents, to ensure that our children are able to do their best, and that includes making sure they get enough sleep.
How can you tell if your child is sleep deprived?
The average school-aged child needs between 9 and 10 hours of sleep per night. When sleep is insufficient in either quantity or quality, certain signs are there.
- Hard to wake. Children who do not get enough sleep often do not wake up spontaneously; they must be awakened, sometimes with great difficulty.
- Groggy. Another sign is that your child is sleepy when they wake up, which results in often rushed or missed breakfast and slower time getting ready in the morning.
- Falls asleep in class. Children who are sleep deprived often appear sleepy in school and may even fall asleep in class.
- Poor concentration. You or the teacher may notice that your child is having trouble concentrating in class and is not finishing work on time.
- Irritability, especially late in the day, is also a sign.
- Late weekend sleeper. If your child is sleeping much longer and later on the weekends, he might be making up the sleep he missed during the week.
So, what steps can you take to ensure that your child is getting enough sleep?
The most important rule is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. This means going to bed on time every night and no sleeping in on the weekends.
Eliminate afternoon and evening naps.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as a warm bath and story time before bed. About one hour before your child is supposed to be in bed, start winding down. Turn the lights lower, eliminate stimulating computer games or movies, and prevent strenuous or boisterous physical activity.
Avoid feeding children big meals close to bedtime; avoid giving your child anything with caffeine within six hours before bedtime.
Set the room temperature so that it is comfortable, not too cold and not too hot, and make sure that the room is dark (use a nightlight for those who may be afraid of the dark). Experts also suggest no television in the bedroom, but for those who may be used to sleeping with a TV on, mute the sound and use the sleep timer on the TV., or come in to turn the TV off once your child is asleep.
Getting more sleep at night gives your child a chance to truly be their best at school and at home, and it can be contagious. When our children are in bed earlier, it frees up time so that we can be in bed earlier too.
Got a sleep problem? Email me at abrennan [at] familybhc.com.