The more slumber your kids get, the better they’ll do in the classroom — and out of it.
When your kids beg for “10 more minutes” of extra TV or computer time before bed, here are a couple of good reasons to say “no.” By getting a good night’s sleep, they’ll not only perform better in school — they might behave better, too.
Kids who get good quality sleep have greater academic success, particularly in math, English, and French, according to a study in the journal Sleep Medicine. “We believe that executive functions (the mental skills involved in planning, paying attention, and multitasking, for example) underlie the impact of sleep on academic performance,” says Reut Gruber, a clinical child psychologist and lead study author. In a previous study, Gruber also found kids who slept more had greater alertness and emotional self-control — meaning they behaved better in school.
The effects of a good night’s sleep extend beyond the school day, too. “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores, and an overall better quality of life,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP.
Yet many kids aren’t capitalizing on these benefits because they don’t sleep nearly enough. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America Poll found that nearly 60 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds sleep seven hours or fewer a night, far below the eight to 10 hours experts recommend for teens. Many 6- to 13-year-olds also get fewer than the nine to 11 hours they need nightly.
“Young people live in nearly a constant state of chronic insufficient sleep,” says Mary Carskadon, PhD, director of the Bradley Hospital Sleep Laboratory and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School, “and adolescents who don't get enough sleep on a regular basis are extremely impaired in the morning.”
In teens, sleep deprivation is partly due to biological changes, according to Carskadon’s research. While younger children have no trouble nodding off early in the evening, teens feel less “sleep pressure” — or the urge to sleep — until much later at night.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools delay the first bell until at least 8:30 a.m. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn,” Owens says.
Getting your kids to sleep longer — and better
Although you can’t control when school starts, you can implement a few changes at home to increase your child’s nightly sleep time.
- Get your children on a sleep schedule. Make your kids go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning — even on weekends. Don’t waver on bedtimes. When parents set firm bedtimes, their kids get more, higher-quality sleep. It’s ok to let your kids stay up a little later during summer vacation or spring break, but a couple of weeks before school starts again, gradually adjust their sleep and wake times to the new school schedule.
- Shut off electronics. Tablets, smartphones, and computer screens give off blue light, which stimulates the brain and keeps kids awake. Plus, texting and playing games online are distractions that keep kids up late. Shut down all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Wind down before bed. Instead of watching TV, establish a calming bedtime ritual. Turn down the lights in your kids’ rooms, put on some relaxing music, and make sure their bedroom is comfortable and quiet.
- Limit caffeine. Cut out sodas and chocolate at night. They’re full of caffeine, a stimulant that can keep kids awake.
- Don’t overschedule. More than a third of kids struggle to sleep because they’re busy well into the night with sports, music practice, and other activities. Try to back off on some of the evening events, at least a few nights a week. Also, encourage your kids to do their homework during study hall or when they first get home, so they won’t have to do it late at night, after all their activities.
- Call the doctor. If, despite trying these techniques, your child still isn’t sleeping well, schedule a visit to the pediatrician. A sleep disorder might be affecting your child’s sleep quality or quantity.
August 21, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN