Are Your Children Getting Enough Sleep?

The consensus is that school children could have a few more hours of sleep

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Most parents realize that their children need a good night’s sleep for good health and academic performance, but few children sleep enough. Only one-fifth of children and teens get enough sleep each night, according to a study released in February 2019 by author Gregory Knell, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at UT Health School of Public Health in Dallas. The National Sleep Foundation’s website states that only 15% of teens sleep enough on school nights.

“Studies have shown that children who don’t sleep well won’t perform well,” said physician Zafer Soultan, associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Upstate Medical University. “They have problems making decisions, solving problems and coping with changes. They have slower reaction, they make mistakes, and they can feel sad, like they’re depressed. Executive decision-making is affected.”

Children and teens who do not get enough sleep at night can have more problems the next day at school. The circadian rhythm shifts for teenagers, making it more difficult to get enough rest. Their internal “clock” urges them to stay up later and awaken later.

“Unfortunately, because they’re working, have a lot of homework, participate in after school activities, or want to go with friends, they alter the circadian rhythm and push it to later times, not 9 or 10, but 12 or 1 a.m. The school districts start very early for high school,” Soultan said.

As a result, Soultan adde, many teens are sleep deficient by at least an hour. That can make teens “prone to accidents, eating more, emotional problems and lower grades.”

Meghann Peters, registered polysomnography technician with Sleep and Wellness Centers of Western New York, said that lack of sleep can foster behavior that “mimics attention deficit disorder, but it’s not. It’s lack of sleep. It can affect mood and cognitive ability.”

Sleep and Wellness Centers operate offices in Auburn, Watertown and Western New York.

Peters added that the long-term effects of chronic lack of sleep in children can include obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Peters said that children and teens need more sleep than adults — 10 to 12 hours, compared with 8 for adults — because their growth hormones are released during sleep.

Peters recommended several steps for improving sleep:

• “Parents need to have children and teens go to bed earlier. They need a set bedtime.

• “The parent needs to make sure they set up a controlled environment: a bedroom that’s cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Turn off the radio. Sleeping to music isn’t helping you.

• “Kids should avoid caffeine. Even chocolate has enough to affect sleep.

• “Have a set bedtime and don’t deviate from it unless you absolutely have to.

• “Especially for younger children, develop a routine like reading for them. Spend 10 to 30 minutes with them before bedtime.

• “Do not let your child watch something inappropriate like a scary movie, as that will tend to increase nightmares.

• “If the child is still tired and they’re getting 10 to 11 hours of sleep, contact the doctor, as the child may have sleep apnea caused by enlarged tonsils or certain facial features.

Soultan suggested:

• “Start early on. It’s all a matter of learning. There are very few sleeping disorders that are out of the hands of the parents. Start good routine habits. Start with a bedtime routine that will help the brain calm down. It can be any routine you want, but it should be very short. For younger children, brushing teeth, shower, and prayers.

• “The bedroom is just for sleep only. It’s not for playing or texting. Keep it clean without clutter, and cool.

• “Sleep at the same time and wake at the same time, even on weekends.

• “They need to try their best to not engage with physical activity close to bedtime, but play sports and do other active things earlier in the day.

• “Do not nap, because that shifts your clock.

• “Some medication can affect sleep. Anemic children that take iron can have restless leg syndrome. Bipolar or ADHAD can also affect sleep. Severe eczema or asthma can disrupt sleep.”