By Kendra Thornton:
As we “spring forward” with Daylight Saving Time, it brings to mind the importance of good sleep.
Preschool children, ages 3-5, typically require 11-13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Elementary-aged children need 10-11 hours each. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation in the U.S. starts at a young age. The average kindergartener obtains 30 minutes less sleep per school night than recommended and the average 11-year old obtains 60 minutes less than recommended, according to research by Stacy Simera, Ohio Region 2 Director of the National Association of Social Workers.
Healthy sleep hygiene is important to success at school. Shortages in sleep are linked to deficits in problem-solving abilities and decreased complex decision making. In fact, chronic sleep deprivation can mirror the symptoms of ADHD. It also affects one’s emotional quotient (EQ). After only one night of sleep deprivation, researchers measured reduced empathy and lower emotional intelligence.
Sleep can also affect one’s physical health and performance. Athletes are faster and more accurate with increased sleep. A study conducted by researchers at Stanford and the University of California found male varsity basketball players improved their free throw and three-point field goal percentages with increased sleep.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics determined that high school athletes who regularly obtained more than eight hours of sleep experienced 68% fewer sports injuries than their peers who obtained less. Research published in the International Journal of Obesity found correlations between sleep, obesity and TV watching among children. Chronically fatigued children are more likely to choose sedentary behavior (TV or video games) over active play, thus increasing the likelihood of obesity. Additionally, teens who slept less than seven hours per night were more likely to consume fast food and less likely to consume fruits and vegetables, according to Simera.
Tips for good sleep habits
Life is hectic, but there are important benefits to making sleep a priority for your family.
Here are some suggestions to ensure quality sleep hygiene for children:
• Create a bedtime routine to help kids unwind in the evening. Choose behaviors that are relaxing like soothing music, a bath, prayers or a story.
• Create a conducive environment for healthy sleep: cool, dark and quiet. To minimize distracting sounds, try a fan or a white noise machine with soothing sounds like rain or ocean waves. A television is not a good idea because its flickering light is stimulating.
• Limit the impact of electronics on sleep, specifically evening exposure to the blue light from the screens of cell phones, tablets and computers which can suppress the sleep hormone melatonin.
• Exercise is great for the body and mind, but heavy exercise should be avoided within three hours of bedtime.
• Try to prevent differences greater than two hours between weekday and weekend sleep. The majority of sleep lost during the week cannot typically be ‘caught up’ over the weekend and the inconsistency disrupts the routine of a child’s regular bedtime.
• Watch out for hidden caffeine. It might be in the energy drink your child is chugging right before their game. How long the effects of caffeine last in the body varies by individual, but typically it is around four to six hours.
• Eliminate unnecessary morning chaos. If it can be done the night before, then do it: showering, laying out clothes, completing and gathering homework, etc. Put the backpack in the car or by the door before heading to bed.
The time you spend enforcing healthy sleep habits is worth the investment. Since deficient sleep can increase moodiness and compromise the immune system, according to Simera, just think of how much easier life will be with fewer tantrums and colds.
• Kahn-Greene, E., Lipizzi, E., Conrad, A., Kamimori, G., & Killgore, W. (2006). Sleep deprivation adversely affects interpersonal responses to frustration. Personality & Individual Differences, 41(8), 1433-1443.
• Mah CD; Mah KE; Kezirian EJ; Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. SLEEP 2011;34(7):943-950.
• Milewski, MD, Pace, JL, Ibrahim, DA, Greg Bishop, G, Barzdukas, A. and. Skaggs, DL. (2014) Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. J Pediatr Orthop March; 34(2): 129-33
• Must, A., & Parisi, S. (2009). Sedentary behavior and sleep: paradoxical effects in association with childhood obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 33S82-S86. doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.23
• Sleep – From A to Zzz: The Impacts of Sleep Deprivation on Emotional and Behavioral Health. (2017) Workshop presented by Stacy Simera, MSSA, LISW-S, SAP.
About the Author
Kendra Thornton, Ed.D., is the Lower School director at The Summit Country Day School. She received her doctorate in education from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., with a specialization in “Mind, Brain and Teaching.” A professional clinical counselor, Dr. Thornton has been published in professional journals and has been a presenter at national conferences.