Whether your child is headed to the first day of Kindergarten or the last semester of college, start that experience off right by adjusting their sleep schedule now.
Ashtabula County Medical Center Sleep Medicine Specialist Jonathan Oliver, MD, said sleep is a key component to a successful school year – no matter what our age. "To adequately prepare their bodies for the full day of school and other activities, children, teens, and young adults all need the right amount of sleep. Our memories are consolidated while we sleep, so sleep is a key factor in retaining what is learned from day-to-day. We strengthen our memories and learning ability by getting the right amount of sleep."
The National Sleep Foundation has offered a new sleep recommendation that shows children need 9-11 hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8-10 hours of sleep. College aged young adults need 7-9 hours of sleep.
With the start of primary and high school just two weeks away, parents need to ensure their children get back on schedule for sleeping.
"This is equally true for college students," Dr. Oliver said. "We all remember getting by on just a few hours of sleep or pulling an 'all-nighter.' However, it is no badge of honor. We do harm to our minds and bodies when we do not get enough sleep."
Here are four reasons why your child needs adequate sleep:
Physical Health: Lack of sleep affects our immune system and hormone production – both very important health aspects for children in school.
"Children need their rest because that's when their bodies produce the hormones that grow strong bones, build muscle mass, and repair cells in the body," said ACMC Pediatrician Sathish Adigopula. MD. "Sleep is also when their immune system recharges and fights against infection and other illnesses."
He added that children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight. This can lead to other health risks such as diabetes and heart disease.
"People who are sleepy make poor choices when choosing food and beverages. This is partly because our body craves food high in calories or carbohydrates to compensate for our lack of energy," Dr. Adigopula said. "These foods and drinks do help increase our energy, but only for a short period of time. When the effects wear off, it feels like we are even more exhausted than before. And we begin the cycle all over again, all to the detriment of our weight and overall health."
Even more troubling is the growing trend of teenagers and pre-teens reaching for energy drinks. These can have very adverse side-effects due to the high caffeine content and other additives – possibly even creating heart problems later in life.
Mental Health: Insufficient sleep can make you irritable and moody. This often can exhibit itself in depression or mood swings.
"Since our mental state is influenced so greatly by our sleeping and nutritional habits, it makes sense that lack of sleep can lead to depression and other mental health concerns," Dr. Oliver said. "Our minds need that time to enter deep, restful sleep. When we do not get that, we are irritable, moody, and possibly not as social."
Good sleep habits allow our minds to recharge, and we tend to have a more positive outlook.
Performance: Cutting back on sleep, even just one hour per day, affects adults and children the same way. Our minds aren't as sharp. Our thoughts tend to wander more, and learning is more difficult.
"Studies have shown that children and adults are more likely to make poor decisions when they are tired. Not only does that have the potential to affect a student's grades, but also their social interaction with others," said Dr. Oliver. "Children who are sleep deprived may get into more trouble at school."
Another indication is how a student acts when they come home from school, Dr. Adigopula said.
"Do they fall asleep on the couch, or hit the junk food to get energy? Do they avoid homework where they are challenged to think?" he asked.
Not only can lack of sleep affect our mental performance, but also our physical performance. This can be especially important for student-athletes and puts students who drive at risk.
Social interaction: This area combines aspects of physical and mental health, as well as performance.
"Children who do not get enough sleep may be perceived by others to not be as social as others, when in reality they are just tired. They may respond to conversations in an irritable way, or they may avoid conversations with people because they are tiring." Dr. Adigopula said.
The danger is that children, and teachers, begin to see them as a loner or troublemaker because they don't respond as expected.
What is a proper bedtime?
Dr. Adigopula suggests younger children should get at least 9 to 11 hours of sleep. As they get older, teenagers can get by with 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Therefore, if a child needs to be up by 7 a.m. they should be in bed between 8 & 10 p.m. dependent upon their age. If your child is staying up until 10 p.m. and sleeping until 9 a.m. then you'll need to adjust both ends of their schedule.
Dr. Oliver said going to bed and/or waking up 20-30 minutes earlier this week and next week may be difficult for the child, but the dividends will pay off once school starts.
For children who have trouble falling asleep, he suggested parents help them develop a bedtime routine.
"The biggest factor for children (and adults) today affecting sleep is the phone, tablet or portable computer we take to bed. We can think we are winding down by climbing into bed to read or chat with friends or play games, but in reality we are just prolonging the time our brain is engaged and active," Dr. Oliver said.
To increase the likelihood of falling asleep quickly, he suggests:
- Go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Create a good sleeping environment. Ditch the distractions such as TV, computers or anything that emits a bright light.
- Relax before beginning your bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or sit and talk quietly with family in a room with only a table lamp on – these are all signals to your brain that it should start winding down.
- Avoid naps late in the day.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Avoid eating late meals.
- Avoid exercising late in the evening.
To help your child get off to school on the right foot, they should also get a health checkup before school starts. This visit to a Pediatrician will help ensure your child is growing in a healthy manner for their age. It also gives you a chance to review any potential health risks before they become a major health problem for your child.
ACMC Pediatricians see patients at ACMC, Conneaut Family Health Center, and Geneva Family Health Center. Schedule an appointment at any location by calling 440-997-6969. For a complete list of Pediatricians and Pediatric Services, visit www.acmchealth.org.