SLEEP is the Answer! (Why Kids Need More Sleep)

Do you sleep enough? Do your children sleep enough? How much sleep is enough sleep, and why does it matter? To answer these important questions, I am using the book called The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control over Their Lives (by William Stixrud & Ned Johnson), as a resource for this article.

Here’s what experts/scientific studies say:

  • if we need an alarm clock in the morning, we are sleep-deprived
  • if we need caffeine during the day to keep us going, we are sleep-deprived
  • 50% of teenagers sleep less than 7 hours per night (in USA)
  • brain scans of teenagers who sleep less than 7 hours per night look like those of people with narcolepsy
  • bad habits (eating late, eating junk food etc.) are exacerbated by lack of sleep
  • sleep is the equivalent of brain food
  • sleep “cleans” the brain every night, giving it a fresh start in the morning
  • 6 hours or less per night is considered sleep insufficiency

Sleep deprivation is a form of chronic stress.

  • higher cortisol levels, higher blood pressure, inflammation, impacts insulin production, decreases appetite, depression

Emotional control is dramatically impaired by sleep deprivation.

  • the amygdala becomes more reactive to triggers; sleep-deprived teens are more likely to use caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and drugs to cope with the mood swings

There is a strong correlation between insufficient sleep and depression.

  • the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are weakened when sleep is deficient, similar to PTSD, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric syndromes

Sleep deprivation has physical implications.

  • obesity; weakened immune system

Sleep supports learning.

  • 6-th graders who slept 35 minutes less than usual for 3 consecutive nights, answered at 4-th grade level in a test compared to their peers ( this means that they lost the equivalent of 2 years of cognitive / academic power)
  • when we sleep, the brain replays experiences and information, which helps with long-term memory
  • sleep makes room for new learning the next day

How much sleep do kids need?

  • preschoolers: 10-13 hours per night
  • 6-13 year old: 9-11 hours per night
  • 14-17 year old: 8-10 hours per night
  • 18-25 year old: 7-9 hours per night

General tips to help your child get enough sleep:

  • bedtime routines are very important, from an early age
  • limit screen time, especially before bed time ( 1-2 hours before bed time, no more screens or smartphones)
  • dim the lights early on in the house; keep lights-off time consistent every night
  • cool down the house for optimal sleep
  • have dark curtains covering the windows
  • in some families, co-sleeping is welcome; you and your family knows best; there is no right or wrong rule about co-sleeping
  • spend 1:1 time with your child, including your teenager, during the day, and / or evening
  • create a culture of connection and togetherness in the evenings by cooking together, playing, walking, watching a movie ( together), and most importantly laughing together
  • pay attention to the tendency for isolation in tweens and teens ( I’ll be in my room!) and keep inviting them in, offering your availability to them ( your time, gentle presence, and genuine interest into their worlds; listen more, lecture less)
  • model the behavior you want to see in your child , such as : turn off your phone 1-2 hours before bed time; don’t use your phone at the dinner table or when you play together; ideally, no TV in your bedroom, or turn it off early; read a book before bed; write in your journal; etc

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