Sleep and your Child

My own friends and family will attest to my personal fixation (not too strong a word) with sleep.  Yet, I’m not crazy (well, I am, but anyway)–adequate sleep is vital for your child’s good health.  Infants need 12-15 hrs, toddlers 10-14 hours, school age 9-11 hrs and teens 8-10 hours per night–note that that applies through teen years, so it includes high school seniors and college students as well . Additionally, continuous sleep is essential.   This enables the brain to go through the various physiologic cycles of normal sleep, including vital “REM”(rapid eye movement) sleep, so 6 hours at night and a 2 hour nap is simply NOT as restful, restorative, or beneficial to health.

Why is this important? There are almost too many ways to count.  Sleep is essential for brain development and plasticity (flexibility). Numerous animal models demonstrate proper sleep associated with more grey matter (brain tissue)  and better synapse (nerve cell connection) development.  Other studies show that children and adults with good sleep both perform better on memory tests compared to sleep deprived individuals.  A recent report in the journal Sleep found a higher rate of language and reading problems, as well as more ADHD symptoms in children who routinely got < 10 hours sleep/night before age 3.  I can tell you that my standard approach to ALL mental health evaluations–depression, anxiety, behavior/school discipline issues, ADHD, even headaches–includes a thorough and detailed review of the child’s present and historical sleep patterns.  It is not rare for me to discover a history of bad habits in that area in children coming in with those concerns, and, additionally, upon correcting those sleep problems many such complaints are improved if not outright resolved.

It goes beyond mental health, though.  A 2018 review conducted by British researchers of over 40 studies that included >75,000 children and adolescents, followed for 3 years, found poor sleep was a strong risk factor (as much as 58% greater) for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and Type II diabetes. Just getting poor sleep resulted in the kids gaining weight faster

In 2016-17, the National Survey of Children’s Health reported a review of almost 50,000 American youth that found only 63% of those aged 6-12 and 68% of 13-17 regularly got a proper night’s sleep.  This is a serious health problem.  What can a parent do?  There are lots of things, but  the simplest I recommend is summed up in 2 words ;  SHUT OFF.  I’m talking phones, computers, tablets, games.  Get your kids off of those things after a reasonable amount of time.  My advise is maximum use 1 hour/day weekdays, 2hr/day weekend/holiday (not including  school work) TOTAL; discontinue use >1/2-1 hour before bedtime, and DO NOT allow your child to store or charge those devises in their bedroom.  (You can BUY a real alarm clock!)

For more on sleep you can check out some articles from the American Academy of Pediatrics here. I have previously reported on public policy initiatives that can help with this problem here.

So please pay close attention to your child’s sleep habits throughout their growing years.  Contact me with any questions or concerns, and thanks for following.

Featured image courtesy of Alamy.