Are Your Kids Getting Enough Sleep?
The Importance of Kids’ Sleeping Schedules During Back-to-School Season
As we say goodbye to the glorious months of summer, we usher in a new season of school supplies, homework, and new classes with new friends. While many students of all ages look forward to many parts of back-to-school season, one thing that very few students are excited about is the changing of their schedules. Summer was full of late nights, sleeping in, and lazy days at the pool. But with the start of school comes early mornings, busy afternoons, and going to bed sometimes before the sun has even set. If your kids struggle with the new schedule at the start of the school year, they are not alone. However, you may not be aware of the importance of adjusting their sleep habits to fit their new schedule, as a lack of sleep can affect children in countless ways, many of which are quite significant. If you have any major concerns about your child’s sleep habits or their ability to get quality sleep on a regular basis, you should have a conversation with their pediatrician. Luckily, many sleep habits can be corrected easily with a few simple changes to your child’s daily activities and schedules. Feel free to contact the pediatrics department at NCHS if you have questions and read on to learn more about the importance of kids’ sleep schedules and what to do to improve them.
Why It’s Important for Kids to Have Consistent Sleep Schedules
Most adults know well how their mood can be affected by a lack of sleep. When we are exhausted, we become grumpy, irritable, and less productive than normal. Kids are exactly the same, except the consequences of a lack of sleep are more far-reaching than that. Kids are affected both physically and emotionally when they’re tired. Physically, they may appear lethargic or may even become hyperactive in an attempt to counteract their exhaustion. Emotionally, sleepy students are less likely to be happy and can get upset quite easily. Tired kids may also become more aggressive and often have trouble focusing and paying attention at school. Additionally, younger kids can suffer from developmental problems or delays when they are notoriously under-rested. Sleep is vital to cognitive and physical development, and when children experience intermittent sleep or have inconsistent sleep habits, their development can be significantly affected. This can lead to speech problems, motor skill delays, learning disabilities, and more.
In addition, kids thrive on a schedule. Even if you think your child is exempt from this, consider how students behave better and achieve more success at school when their teachers are consistent with their expectations and their routines. Children do better with routine because they know what to expect, which allows them to feel calmer and more at peace with the situation. When kids have the same bedtime every night and parents that follow through on enforcing that bedtime, they are more likely to adapt faster to the new sleep schedule and they will have an easier time falling and staying asleep. When they have consistent bedtimes and are able to get the amount of sleep they need each night, children will wake each morning feeling more refreshed and prepared to take on the day.
How to Know if Your Child Isn’t Getting Enough Sleep
Sometimes, it’s very obvious when a child isn’t getting enough sleep. However, other times, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for a problematic behavior or other concern. But knowing the signs that your child is a bit sleep deprived will help you make the appropriate changes to improve their sleep habits and correct their sleeping schedule to help them thrive.
The simplest way to tell if your child is getting enough sleep is to simply pay attention to the time they fall asleep and the time they wake up. This may be harder for older children, but it can serve as a good baseline for knowing if they’re overtired. Preschool-aged children generally need 11 to 12 hours of sleep per day, which can include a nap. Young school-aged children between 6 years and 12 years typically need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep, depending on the child. Teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night.
One of the easiest ways to tell if your child is overtired is by how they wake up. Just as tired babies tend to wake up crying, tired children tend to wake up grumpy and unhappy. They may be harder to wake up and get moving, visually upset, or may complain verbally about having to get up.
Another key is how they act in the afternoons and evenings. Most people experience an afternoon slump, of sorts, where they feel sleepier and have to find motivation to finish the day strong. However, children who are overtired may whine and complain a lot in the afternoons, they may have emotional meltdowns or be more difficult to manage as the day goes on, and they may seem to desperately need a nap come dinner time.
If your child seems to need to “make up” for lost sleep time on the weekends, that’s another sign that their sleep schedule is inadequate for the back-to-school season. Pediatricians agree that children’s sleep time each night should be consistent during both weekdays and weekends, with only a little variation in bedtimes and wake times. If your child wakes up early during the week and sleeps in significantly later on weekends, they are likely not getting enough sleep.
What to Do to Help Your Child Establish Better Sleep Habits
When children don’t get enough sleep, it can wreak havoc on other areas of their life, so it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Our kids’ care pediatrics team can give you some pointers on improving sleep habits, and our pediatricians are available to discuss any sleep-related concerns you may have about your child. However, there are a number of things you can try in order to improve your child’s sleep schedule and help them establish better sleep habits.
Start with creating a routine. This works for teenagers just as well as it works for preschoolers. Each night, have them shower or bathe. Let them spend 15 minutes reading a book (not on a phone or other technology), and then have them turn out the lights and stay in bed until they fall asleep. It may take a while at first for them to fall asleep quickly, but having a consistent routine will help their body’s internal clock and allow them to get more adequate rest.
Be sure to prioritize sleep. It can be hard, especially for older kids, to turn down sports activities, church events, or school functions that occur later in the evening. If your child is struggling to get enough sleep, prioritizing being home at a certain time every single night so that they can keep up with their schedule and get enough sleep can be beneficial.
Establish rules about electronics usage in the evenings and follow through on enforcing them. This can be difficult since parents are often as guilty as their kids are when it comes to staring at their phones or tablets in the evenings. Countless studies have shown that electronic usage late at night can seriously hinder our ability to sleep, so make it a point to have a shut-off time for all technology and be sure to set a good example by following your own rule so that everyone in the house can be well-rested.
Encourage physical activity earlier in the day. Any physical activity will help promote better sleep in children, but when the activity occurs too close to bedtime, it can negatively impact a child’s ability to fall asleep. Try to schedule sports activities as early in the day as possible and encourage your children to have a cool-down period after participating in physical activity and before going to sleep.
Eat and drink well. This can be challenging, especially in the busy back-to-school season. But diet can directly and hugely impact your child’s ability to sleep. Eating a large meal too close to bedtime can keep them from falling asleep, consuming too much caffeine or sugar too late in the day can hinder their ability to rest, and having an overall poor diet can stop them from getting adequate rest.
Take them to NCHS. If at-home attempts to improve your child’s sleep don’t work or if you are still concerned about their lack of sleep, bring them in to one of our offices. Our pediatricians can offer a number of additional suggestions and our chiropractors can provide adjustments that may help with some nervous system issues that are inhibiting your child’s ability to rest well. Give our kids’ care pediatrics team a call to schedule an appointment or stop in to one of our NCHS locations today.