Sleep is so vital to kids’ health, contributing to everything from weight fluctuation, to academic performance to mood swings. Here’s how to get it!
Please welcome Dr. Sundus Hussain-Morgan from Complete Healthcare International with her top tips for supporting healthy sleep habits in your kids.
If you are the parent of a “tweenie” or teenager I am sure that, like me, you worry about your child getting enough quality sleep. This becomes more and more important as the term continues with the increasing demands of assignments, examinations and after school activities. Of course there are also the very early starts to catch the school bus that we are all too familiar with here in Singapore! School terms are long and expectations of performance both inside and outside school are high.
We have long understood the vital importance of sleep in brain function – especially in children – and the health consequences of poor quality sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can impact your child’s ability to listen, concentrate, recall facts and problem solve. It can cause mood disturbances both at school and home. Lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does play a role. Poor sleep can have an impact on immune function leaving children more vulnerable to whatever viruses etc are circulating at school, and aggravates skin conditions like acne and pimples. Not getting enough sleep can also cause metabolic disturbances that cause weight gain through cravings for carbohydrates and fats. In girls, poor sleep can lead to hormonal disturbances at a time when hormonal production is already variable. Loss of appetite leading to skipping of meals, breakfast in particular, is also all too common.
The amount of sleep that each child needs obviously varies but if we look at the recommendations given by organizations such as the National Sleep Foundation, we are advised that children aged 5 to 12 need 11-13 hours and teenagers 11-17 need 9.25 to 9.5 hours. In reality we know that these guidelines are often not met. Teenagers tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week, typically staying up late on weekends. Many child and adolescent psychologists would suggest that, sadly, teenagers are the most sleep-deprived segment of the population.
So what can you do as a parent to help improve your children’s sleep? The following are some suggestions that may help:
- Avoid large meals before bedtime; ideally avoid eating 2 hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeine-containing drinks, especially for older teenagers.
- Make sure strenuous exercise takes place several hours before bedtime.
- Encourage them to have a strict sleep routine whereby they go to bed and wake up around the same time each day — inclusive of weekends.
- Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dimly lit and relaxing, that the room temperature is not too hot or too cool, and that bed clothing is appropriate for that temperature.
- Encourage a nighttime “wind down routine” i.e. avoid heavy studying, text messaging, social media, or computer games late in the evening.
- Remember that the bed is for sleeping only and not for laying awake watching TV or reading.
- Remove all TVs, computers and hand phones from the bedroom.
- If your child uses a digital clock ensure that it faces away from them, and if possible allow natural light into the room that will facilitate waking up more naturally in the morning
- Encourage children to learn relaxation and deep breathing techniques, such as listening to quiet music or specific relaxation CDs or applications:
- It can be useful to write down “to do lists” as a way of planning for the next day to avoid laying in bed stressing about the day ahead
- It may also be useful for children who are experiencing anxiety to write down some notes in a diary or notebook before bed as a way of clearing their minds of anxious thoughts
- Finally, prolonged sleep disturbance can be a warning sign of associated medical problems and so it is in important that any concerns are discussed with a medical professional.
Dr Sundus Hussain-Morgan is an experienced UK trained GP. Her areas of interest are: women and children health, dermatology, preventative medicine and chronic disease management.