When one of my four kids is snappish, I almost immediately think about how much sleep the child had gotten the night before. If less than usual, then I generally know the why behind the crankiness-and brace myself for the onslaught of whininess. “Sleep supports healthy growth and development,” says Terry Cralle, a nurse and certified clinical sleep educator. “Children who sleep less than the recommended number of hours suffer an increase in behavior, learning and attention disorders.”
But in today’s fast-paced world, sleep is often overlooked or sacrificed. “Studies show that many children are getting less sleep than they did 20 years ago,” says Cralle.
Parents also underestimate the amount of sleep a tween or teen needs. Last year, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, changed its recommendations for how much sleep children should get:
– Children 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours of sleep each 24-hour period.
– Teens 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours of sleep each 24-hour period.
“Sleep deprivation has negative consequences for children’s health at every age,” says Dr. Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, pediatric pulmonologist and interim head of the division of pediatric pulmonology, allergy and sleep medicine at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. “Sleep is a restorative part of the day. Just as you recharge an iPhone or iPad, children at every age must recharge their batteries by getting a good night’s sleep.”
The factors contributing to kids not getting enough sleep vary, but here are some of the top contenders:
– Smartphones. “Yes, a smartphone makes a good alarm, but not if kids are texting or checking social media all night,” says Elisabeth Stitt with Joyful Parenting Coaching. Christine Stevens, a certified sleep consultant with Sleepy Tots Consulting, adds that the “blue wavelength of light emitted by these devices tricks the brain into thinking it’s time to wake up and inhibits the production of melatonin, a key sleep hormone. So keep those smartphones out of their rooms at night. You can have them charge in your room to keep an eye on them, or another docking station.
– Varying bedtimes. An occasional late night is okay, but consistency is the key to good sleep habits. A consistent bedtime helps set circadian rhythms and provides a sense of order and structure, Cralle says. Most nights, our own 8-year-old goes to bed at 8 p.m., our 10-year-old at 8:30 p.m., our 12-year-old at 9 p.m., and our 14-year-old at 9:30 p.m. The more consistent bedtimes…