A Teachable Moment: March 2013 – Are you sleepy?
Dr. Susan Bartell
Are you tired? Me too! But, guess what…your child or teen is probably even more tired. In fact, eighty percent of teens, and nearly seventy percent of kids under ten are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can be a significant problem for kids, interfering with almost every aspect of their lives. Tiredness can make it difficult to learn and retain information in the classroom, cause distractibility and difficulties with attention, (it can be mistaken for ADHD) and may even result in a child falling asleep in school or while doing homework. Sleep deprivation may reduce a child’s motivation to participate in activities or cause kids to become cranky, impatient and badly behaved in social situations.
In the U.S., the first week in March (leading up to Daylight Savings Time in many areas), is “National Sleep Awareness Week”, giving us an opportunity to consider the most common reasons that kids become deprived and then do our best to ensure that they get more sleep:
The sleep stealer: No time to sleep! Many kids and teens have schedules so busy that they simply can’t get to bed early enough to get at least eight hours of sleep.
- The sleep solution: Cut down on extracurricular activities. This is the answer if your child doesn’t have time to do homework, eat, bathe and relax for thirty minutes before bed.
The sleep stealer: Too much screen time! When viewed right before bed, the TV, computer, cell phone or other electronic screens, can interfere with your child’s ability to relax and dial back brain activity in preparation for sleep. In addition, too much screen time during the day wastes time, making it difficult for your child to complete all tasks and activities before bed.
- The sleep solution: Turn off the screens. All ‘screens’ should be turned off at least thirty to forty-forty five minutes before bed time. Resist the urge to allow a TV in your child’s bedroom and ensure that, at night, the cell phone is also docked in another room. If your child can’t ‘resist’ the computer or handheld games, be sure to have strict, enforced rules to limit their use.
The sleep stealer: Wrecked routines! When your child’s bedtime is different each night, chaotic, loud or stressful, it is much more likely to result in difficulty falling and staying asleep. In addition, without a routine, your child is much less likely to get the recommended number of hours of shut-eye.
- The sleep solution: Kids are much more likely to get enough sleep when they have a predictable, soothing bedtime routine. Start at the same time every night, and include bathroom activities, reading or a quiet game and then end with a short hug and kiss. Don’t get into bed with your child, instead teach him how to ‘self soothe’ by encouraging him to fall asleep on his own—without your help.
The sleep stealer: As with adults, snoring can cause chronic sleep deprivation for kids because they never get a good night’s sleep, even if they seem to be getting enough hours of sleep. Some reasons that kids snore include enlarged tonsils or adenoids, being overweight, allergies and sleep apnea.
- The sleep solution: Although it may seem minor, snoring is a sign that something is not quite right with our child’s health. When your child snores routinely (not just when she has a cold), it’s important to talk to her health professional about what may be causing it. Don’t quit searching for the answer until you find it! Your child may not know it now, but she will thank you later.
Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest parenting book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com.