Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep on School Nights?
For kids, a new school year often means new school supplies, outfits, and adjusting to a new schedule. But there’s one often overlooked change that also comes along with going back to school: getting used to going to bed on time and waking up early on a regular basis. While this may not be an easy task after the carefree days of summer, sleep is more important for your kids than you think. Not getting enough can affect their health and can also interfere with their performance at school.
Similar to their parents, kids are physically and emotionally affected when they are sleep deprived; they too need adequate sleep for optimal daytime functioning. However, the signs of sleep deficiency in children aren’t as obvious as they are in adults.
“If a child doesn’t get enough sleep or good quality sleep, they may not appear sleepy at all,” said Dr. Jacqueline Genova, a pediatric sleep specialist at Abington Memorial Hospital. “In fact, they may look hyperactive or have difficulty focusing.”
Sleep loss can also lead to emotional instability, which can cause behavioral problems among children and adolescents. “Kids may be more aggressive, have easier meltdowns, or have trouble paying attention in the classroom,” said Dr. Genova. They might even fall asleep at school if they have accumulated a significant amount of sleep “debt.”
According to Dr. Genova, children actually need more sleep than adults. While each individual child has different sleep needs, the recommended sleep range differs among each age group. For children in elementary school, they need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Those who are in their middle school years, ages 11-14, should get between 10 and 11 hours of sleep. And late adolescents should aim to get around nine and a half hours of sleep.
Unfortunately, many kids are not getting the sleep they need for a variety of reasons. Between school and extracurricular activities, busy schedules often make it more difficult for them to wind down at night. Athletics into the evening, for example, increase heart rates and are stimulating, which prevents kids from falling asleep at an early enough hour. Also, an adolescent is naturally inclined to go to sleep later at night and sleep until later in the morning. Unfortunately, most schools have early arrival times, which only set up students to lose out on necessary sleep.
Above all, Dr. Genova says that electronic devices are a major factor.
“From phones to tablets to computers, all of that brings the Internet to their fingertips for 24-hour stimulation,” said Dr. Genova.
To ensure your kids are getting the sleep they need for their health and performance at school, Dr. Genova recommends the following:
- Limit access to electronics, especially at night. Limit screen time to no more than one to two hours a day, if for entertainment purposes. It’s especially important for them to avoid using bright tech devices at night at least one hour before their bed time.
- Teach them that the bed is for sleep only. Many children use their phones or laptops in their beds, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep even when these devices are turned off. When the bed is associated with sleep only, it’s much easier to relax and fall asleep in bed at night.
- Create a healthy bedtime routine. If your child prefers to go to sleep at a later hour, try setting back her bedtime in 15 minute increments each night. This will help her adjust to an earlier bedtime that allows her to wake up feeling refreshed.