By Kylee Harris
Children need a good night’s sleep to feel alert, energised and focused the next morning. However, the Ministry of Social Development reports that many children in New Zealand are sleep-deprived, including 30% of toddlers. In older children, the problem isn’t any less concerning, since many stay up late using screens, which wrest from their sleep quality and affect their ability to fall asleep quickly. Children don’t just need to sleep a required number of hours, but also enjoy good sleep quality. In others words, they should fall asleep within half an hour of getting into bed and wake up no more than once during the night. If you are a concerned parent, and you’d like to ensure your children get all the rest they need to grow and thrive, then read on.
What Are the Consequences of Sleep Deprivation in Children?
As is the case for adults, sleep deprivation has a myriad of negative consequences for kids. Those who don’t enjoy the appropriate number of hours for their age may feel irritable, fatigued and moody when they wake up in the morning. Sleep deprivation also influences the working memory, and the ability to focus. What’s more, poor sleep can lower testosterone levels. Testosterone is key to a number of vital functions, including growth, muscle mass and strength, and it is just one of many hormones that can be negatively impacted by a lack of sleep. The hormones that are responsible for appetite regulation, for instance, are also dependent on sleep timing and quality.
Creating a Sleep Schedule
The age of your child affects their sleep schedule: the younger the child, the more hours of rest they need. Infants younger than 12 months, for instance, need between 12 and 16 hours, toddlers younger than two require 11 to 14 hours, pre-schoolers younger than 5 should get 10 to 13 hours, children under 13 need 9 to 12 hours and teenagers require 8 to 10 hours of rest. To ensure kids sleep as many ZZZs as they need, going to bed at the same time every night is vital. If your kids nap during the daytime, make sure they do so for no longer than the amount of time recommended for their age. For instance, by the age of two, naps are generally around one hour long. This will ensure that children feel sleepiest when they should-at night.
Establishing a Bedtime Routine
In order to make your child look forward to bedtime, make the experience enjoyable. An effective bedtime routine can include a nutritious snack, bath or shower, and a lullaby or story. These activities should always be done in the same order so that your child knows what to expect. You can leave the room while your child is sleepy but not completely asleep so that they get accustomed to falling asleep alone.
Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Your child should always feel comfortable in their room, even when parents are absent. The temperature of their bedroom should lie between 20 and 22ºC. Lower temperatures allow for more focused sleep, and slow down metabolism. Temperatures that are too high are associated with a rise in risk of SIDS in infants, so keep it on the cool side. Your child’s room should also be as quiet as possible, avoiding any audible disturbances that may disrupt your child’s sleep. If noise cannot be prevented, white noise under 50 dB can be played to block external sounds. The bedroom should be kept as dark as possible, since light increases alertness and delays the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy). If your child prefers to have a night light, however, the tint of the light should lie in the red/orange spectrum to reduce disturbance. All power outlets should be covered, and all sharp corners should be covered with child-proof coverings.
Limiting Electronic Use
Access to all electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and TVs should be restricted one hour before bedtime. Electronic devices affect sleep due to their emission of blue light, which delays the production of melatonin and disrupts children’s sleep patterns. Bedtime routines should be totally screen-free. If you enjoy reading a story to your kids during their bedtime, do so from a book instead of a screen, so kids don’t stare into devices or ask to play with them during this crucial part of their routine.
Avoid Caffeine and Sugary Foods
Caffeine is most commonly found in foods and drinks such as chocolate, energy drinks, soft drinks and coffee. Multiple studies have concluded that the consumption of caffeine by children of ages 8 to 12 results in worsened sleep quality. When being processed by the body, sugar uses high quantities of magnesium, a mineral crucial to sleep. High consumption of sugar therefore results in less frequent, lower-quality sleep.
Sleep deprivation among children is a prevalent issue, impacting their wellbeing and development. Despite the prevalence of this problem in children, several solutions exist. Parents may create sleep schedules and bedtime routines in order to simplify bedtimes and make sleep a pleasant experience for their children. Parents can also take precautions such as limiting electronic use and eliminating the consumption of sugary and caffeinated foods.
Kylee Harris is an educator who has taught in elementary schools in Singapore and Hong Kong for 5 years. She lives in Florida and continues to teach life skills to young adults in her community.