March 22, 2023
A poor night's sleep can adversely affect the well-being and mood of children, as well as their performance at school. But what if they just go to bed a little later than usual?
Even the loss of 30 minutes of sleep per night for a week may be detrimental to a child's physical and mental health, a new study suggests. Such sleep reductions lead to significant reductions in physical health, social and peer support, the ability to cope at school and overall quality of life, the researchers found.
Dr. Azizi Seixas, a sleep specialist at the University of Miami Health System, said the study should serve as a "wakeup call to parents."
"From food choices to exercise to coping skills and social engagement — all of these components of a healthy life can be impacted positively or negatively by sleep," Seixas, who was not involved in the study, told Healthline.
To better understand the effects of sleep restriction on children, the researchers manipulated the bedtimes of 100 healthy children, ages 8-12, so that they experienced alternating weeks of restricted and extended sleep. During the weeks of restricted sleep, the children went to bed an hour later each night. When they received extended sleep, they went to bed an hour earlier than usual. Their wake-up times were not changed.
Children ages 6-12 should get at least nine hours of sleep each night to help support their developing brains, sleep experts say. Teenagers should get 8-10 hours each night.
A study conducted last year found that pre-teens who slept less than nine hours a night over a two-year stretch had less grey matter in areas of the brain responsible for attention, memory, and behavioral control. They had difficulties with decision making, conflict solving, working memory and learning. They were more likely to be impulsive or aggressive and to experience stress, depression and anxiety.
Other studies have shown that a lack of sleep can lead to weight management problems, growth issues and increased frequency of illnesses in children. Poor sleep has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Parents play a significant role in helping their children establish their sleep habits. Here are some tips from the experts at Sleep Foundation, Healthline, Children's Hospital Colorado and Raising Children:
• Don't let children sleep with their phones or other electronic devices because the blue light they emit suppresses melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep, and delays sleepiness.
• Create bedtime rituals, like reading for an hour before bed, to help prepare the body for sleep.
• Set a consistent bedtime and wake-up times. Even on weekends and holidays, bedtime and wake-up times should stay within a two-hour range of the child's weekday schedule.
• Make sure children feel safe at night. Don't let them watch a scary show right before bed. Give them a night light if they are afraid of the dark.
• Make sure children get enough natural light and exercise during the day. This will help them feel sleepy at the end of the day.
• Provide a range of healthy foods during the day. Avoid offering any foods or drinks with caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
• Try to ease any worries children have before bedtime so that they can sleep better. Though not every situation will have a simple solution, reassuring them can help.
• Have children evaluated and treated for any medical conditions that may be disrupting their abilities to get quality sleep, like obstructive sleep apnea or acid reflux.
• Avoid using an early bedtime as a punishment or staying up late as a reward.
• Don't let children sleep with a pet because the animal's movements during the night might wake them up.
• Make sure children sleep in a dark, quiet and comfortable bedroom with a good mattress and pillow.