Sleep plays a vital role in health outcomes for children and adults. Unfortunately most school aged kids are getting less sleep as they progress though school. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following: 10-13 hours for 3-5 year olds (including naps), 9-12 hours for 6-12 year olds, 8-10 hours for 13-18 year olds. The National Sleep Foundation cited 75% of 18 year olds reported getting less than 8 hours per night. While there are a number of strategies to help sleep, let’s go over a few things that may hinder sleep first.
What Should I Avoid?
In 2006 adolescents reported having at least one electronic device in their bedroom. With the popularity of iPhones and tablets, it’s safe to say that number has increased. The problem with electronics is the emission of blue light. Blue light affects the secretion of melatonin which regulates your internal clock (24 hour cycle). Meletonin levels are highest at night and lowest during the morning. Blue light emitted from electronics at night will set back your internal clock delaying sleep and decreasing melatonin secretion when it’s most needed.
TV shows, movies, and video games can increase emotional arousal delaying sleep and lower sleepiness. Try watching Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead and immediately falling asleep. Good luck! In addition to emotional arousal, blue light screens will decrease melatonin levels.
The last one is obvious, but try to limit caffeine after 12 PM (noon). This includes soft drinks, coffee, and energy drinks.
Sleep Tips For Kids
Set a schedule or routine for bedtime. This is the most important tip for kids and adults too. It’s best to keep a visual schedule for the whole family to see. The steps you choose will get your children relaxed and prepared for sleep. Routines can start with infants. Studies show that infants who had a bedtime routine reduced sleep latency (time to fall asleep) and number/duration of night wakening. That will make happy parents! Routines can include bathing, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story, using the bathroom, and listening to calming music. Routines should be short and should be no longer than 1 hour. Start at 15 minutes for infants and add time continuing up to teenage years. If possible, follow your routine every night even on weekends.
Decrease the room temperature to 60-67 degrees. This is the temperature range for optimal sleep. Heat exposure increases wakefulness and decreases the amount of time spent in stages of sleep like Rapid Eye Movement (dreaming occurs) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (deepest part of sleep).
Wear socks to bed. If your feet are cold, wear socks to dilate the blood vessels in your feet. Dilation triggers your brain to prepare itself for sleep.
Keep your the kid’s bedroom as dark as possible. As you know, light in your room can affect your melatonin levels. If you use a night light, go with a red light. Red lights have the least effect on your internal clock. Try this night light.
Do not eat or drink anything at least an hour before bed. Your body has to process anything you ingest,so if you eat or drink something before bed, your body will have to digest it. Also eating or drinking will increase risk of having to use the bathroom late at night.
Deep breaths before bedtime will help prepare your body for sleep. Try 5 slow inhales and exhales. If you inhale for 5 seconds try to exhale for 10 seconds. Parents can use this breathing exercise as part of the nightly routine.
What Happens When Sleep is Optimized?
Studies show that declarative memory is enhanced in children when recommended amounts of sleep are met. Declarative memory is the ability to remember facts or events. Wouldn’t this be helpful in school? Unfortunately there are no studies that show a positive correlation between sleep and non-declarative memory. Non-declarative memory is used in the learning of languages or learning a skill.
Also the risk for diabetes, anxiety, obesity, and depression all decrease with the recommended amount of sleep. Immunity is strengthened with better sleep. This is why you should get plenty of rest if you are starting to feel sick.
If you truly want better sleep for kids, it all starts with the parents or guardian. Enforcing the bedtime routine and setting a good example is of utmost importance. A good night’s rest is an integral part of learning and performance. Implementing these tips could set your child up for future success in and beyond school.
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