Make sure your child gets the sleep they need by following a few simple strategies.
Children these days are frequently connected to the glowing screens of phones, tablets and other electronic gadgets, leading them to be more sleep deprived than ever before. In fact, more than two-thirds of the nation’s children experience frequent sleep problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Dr. Ronesh Sinha, an internal medicine specialist with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and co-leader of Sutter’s South Asian Wellness Task Force, says staying up late and having inconsistent bedtimes can lead to trouble with a child’s social and emotional behavior.
“As adults, we feel fatigue when deprived of sleep. But studies show that sleep deprived children typically exhibit hyperactivity and quick mood swings,” Dr. Sinha says. “Fortunately, behavior improves significantly once children have a consistent bedtime that gives them adequate sleep.”
Children’s sleep needs vary based on age, with younger children requiring more rest time. Elementary and middle school-age youths need about 11 hours of sleep each night, Dr. Sinha says, while teenagers require at least nine hours of shuteye. To make sure your child is getting enough sleep, follow Dr. Sinha’s guidelines to promote good sleep habits for everyone in your family.
Avoid Overscheduling Your Child
Parents often fill a child’s day with multiple activities and academic enrichment programs in an effort to boost brain power. But these efforts can backfire if your child has consistently later bedtimes.
“No class or activity can come close to the brain-enhancing effects of sufficient sleep,” Dr. Sinha says. “Sleep helps your child absorb and retain more information. So organize your child’s schedule in a way that ensures a regular bedtime.”
Turn Off Electronics
Children frequently become hyperactive before bedtime, which is often due to excessive stimulation from evening screen time, social activities or sugar. Dr. Sinha says parents need to let their children wind down before bedtime so they can fall asleep more easily.
“Initiate a calm routine like a warm bath or shower followed by some reading time,” he says. “Turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime. And don’t feed your child sugary snacks before bed.”
Don’t Succumb to Social Pressure
Occasional late-night social events may not be disruptive to your child’s sleep, but if your child is kept up beyond a normal bedtime every weekend this can be a problem. Significant bedtime deviations disrupt your child’s sleep rhythm, causing effects similar to jet lag.
“A common pattern is a late Friday and Saturday bedtime followed by an earlier Sunday school night bedtime. Try to keep bedtimes as consistent as you can through weekends, holidays and summer vacations,” Dr. Sinha says.
Let Your Child Go to Bed
Children are often kept up in the evenings to greet a parent arriving home late from work. While anyone can understand the desire to see their loved ones after a long, hard work day, the effects of lost sleep can be detrimental to a child over time.
“If this happens often, you may be sacrificing your child’s physical, emotional and intellectual development,” Dr. Sinha says.
Resist Cultural Patterns
As a medical practitioner who works closely with the South Asian community, Dr. Sinha knows that it’s not uncommon for young children with those cultural backgrounds to go to bed late. An international study presented at the 2008 joint conference of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society found that children with family backgrounds from India and other Asian countries had significantly later bedtimes and shorter total sleep times than children from other countries.
“If you come from a culture that accepts late, irregular bedtimes, break out of the norm. Prioritize your child’s sleep,” Dr. Sinha says. “Sleep confers tremendous benefits on our minds and bodies. Make it a priority not just for your kids, but for the entire family.”