Every parent knows the challenge of getting children to bed on time. For kids, 15 minutes of additional playtime always trumps a little more sack time. But your bleary-eyed children might be putting their health at risk by not getting enough sleep.
“Missing as little as 30 minutes of sleep time can have a real impact on your child’s mood, attention span and overall health,” says Sasha Carr, a psychologist and child sleep expert who is a faculty member at the Family Sleep Institute in Stamford, Connecticut. Children’s bodies need the restoration sleep provides. And their developing brains require sleep even more, Carr says.
Children who do not have adequate sleep may struggle in school. “Sleep is a crucial factor in attention, learning and memory — all key functions for success in school,” Carr says.
Sleep deprivation also can make kids moodier, and significantly impact a child’s behavior, says Dr. Neil Kline, a spokesman for the American Sleep Association.
“Sleep-deprived children are more prone to outbursts,” he says.
Lack of adequate sleep has been linked health conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes in children.
Helping your child sleep better
Sleep problems affect 15 to 30 percent of children overall, according to findings by Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Among children with special needs, 50 to 80 percent may struggle to fall asleep, or to stay asleep.
The signs that a child is not well-rested are not always obvious, Carr says.
“Tired children often don’t act the same as tired adults,” she says. “They will act the opposite of what we think tired looks like — resisting bedtime and becoming more active rather than less.”
As issues with sleep for kids are discovered and addressed, parents can help turn around the negative effects associated with sleeplessness.
For example, Carr says research has shown that a significant portion of kids diagnosed with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have sleep problems.
“Once the sleep problems were fixed, many of those children no longer had ADHD symptoms,” she said.
Carr says she has helped more than 1,000 families with sleep issues. She also has written “Putting Bungee to Bed,” a bedtime picture book aimed at helping children to become better sleepers.
She offers the following tips for children to help with sleep.
1. Watch for signs of restlessness at night. If your child seems “wired” or hyper before bedtime, it’s a sign to move the time for lights-out earlier.
2. Turn off electronics an hour before bedtime. Electronic screens give off a blue light that blocks melatonin, the so-called “sleep hormone.” That can disrupt the process of falling asleep later.
“A mild TV show might be OK to watch if the screen is across the room, but ditch all tablets and other handheld devices,” Carr says.
3. Establish bedtime rules – and stick to them. “Be very clear and firm on this point,” Carr says. She advises having clocks visible in areas where children spend time during the evenings.
On her website — Off to Dreamland — Carr recommends My Sleep Clock, a clock that changes color at bedtime. The clock can be purchased at Amazon.
The American Sleep Association also offers tips for helping children sleep better. They include:
4. Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. For example, the association recommends reading from a couple of books, singing a song and giving the child a quick massage before bed every night. Such a predictable routine can help soothe the child.
5. Create the right atmosphere. Keep the room cool, and as dark as possible. Kids may also find “white noise” – such as a running fan – soothing.
6. Make sure kids are awake before they go to bed. Children need to learn to fall asleep, so it is better if they are awake when you put them into bed or a crib.