With the school year underway, making sure your children get enough healthy sleep each night is a priority. Inadequate or poor quality sleep can affect your child’s mood, ability to learn, and overall health and well-being. Building a healthy sleep routine can help make sure your child gets the right amount of good quality rest each day.
How sleep impacts your child’s health
Several studies have examined the potential health risks associated with too little healthy sleep:
- Increased risk of becoming overweight: A number of researchers have found an association between too little sleep and an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. Lack of sleep can cause changes in several hormones, including leptin, ghrelin, insulin, cortisol, and growth hormone, which effect appetite and satiety, diabetes risk, inflammation in the body, and healthy growth. Another study found an association between bedtime for preschoolers and obesity in the teen years. The researchers found that preschoolers who go to sleep by 8 pm were significantly less likely to become obese teens compared to those who went to bed one or more hours later.
- Risk of heart disease in later life: Children with sleep problems experience more brain arousal while sleeping, which causes their glucose and cortisol levels to remain high during the night, a time when those levels drop in those who do not have sleep problems. Over time, consistently higher glucose and cortisol levels may increase the risk for diabetes and some forms of heart disease.
- Lowered ability to fight infections: While you sleep, your body produces proteins called cytokines, which help defend against infections such as colds and flu. If your children do not get enough sleep, fewer cytokines may be produced. Some studies have found a link between getting more sleep and fewer cold and flu infections in teens.
- More problems with focus, attention, and learning: The prefrontal cortex and amygdala, two parts of the brain involved in organization, attention, and emotional control, are particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation. Children who do not get enough sleep have more problems paying attention and completing tasks successfully in school and are more likely to have trouble controlling their emotions. Sleep problems can also lead to the misdiagnosis of ADHD. One study found that 28% of the children studied who did not get enough sleep had symptoms of ADHD, but did not have the disorder and their symptoms stopped when they got enough rest.
Healthy sleep strategies to help your children get the rest they need
How much sleep your children need each night depends on their age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises that children between the ages of 3 to 5 need 10 to 13 hours per day, including naps; those between the ages of 6 and 12 need 9 to 12 hours; and teens need 8.5 to 9.5 hours a night.
To encourage your children to get the rest they need to be healthier, it’s wise to establish and stick to a regular night time routine and bedtime. Other strategies that can help you children sleep well include:
- Being physically active during the day
- Keeping their bedroom dark and cool
- Avoiding drinks and foods that contain caffeine, such as dark chocolate and some sports drinks
- Implementing a “no screens” rule within two hours of bedtime and in the bedroom that includes computers, TVs, cell phones, tablets, and game systems, since recent studies have found that the light from these screens may lower the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake patterns
If you child has ongoing problems falling and staying asleep, talk with your pediatrician. A range of health issues, including sleep apnea and snoring, can disrupt sleep and can be remedied with treatment.