Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sleep: How much kids need and how to get it

With the school year in full swing, do you notice your child winding down and running out of gas as the week wears on? New studies indicate that lack of sleep causes behavioral problems in children and can even be linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD). According to Sleep for Kids: A National Sleep Foundation, children 5 to 12 years old need 10 to 12 hours of sleep nightly to learn and get along with peers in school. Adequate sleep also allows for healthy bone and tissue growth.

On the flip side, research shows that children perform two years below their grade level on school work and in learning new material when they don't get enough Zzzz time.

For those parents whose kids hit the pillow and conk out, like cutting the strings on a marionette, and you've managed to get enough consistent sleep for the younger set in your household, kudos!

For the rest of us, here's a few tips to make sure your children get enough sleep to meet demands at school and in life.

  1. Establish a bedtime routine and be consistent. Set aside 10 to 30 minutes even if your pattern as an adult is to be flexible and free wheeling. When children form nightly habits, such as watching a TV show, eating a snack (caffeine free), bathing, then reading a book before the lights go out, they are more able to wind down and get ready to relax into sleep. Note: if medicines, such as cough syrup must be given, avoid products with caffeine or other stimulants.

  2. Do whatever you can to make sure your child goes to bed at the same time every night and gets up at the same time in the morning. Researchers report that kids who go to bed at various times rather than having a consistent bedtime are twice as likely to have difficulties in getting to sleep. They also wake during the night more frequently.

  3. Keep the bedtime hour as consistent as possible on the weekends, too. The change in snoozing hours over the weekend can mess up circadian rhythms that take several days to reestablish, thus depriving your child of sleep during the week.

  4. Interact with your child at bedtime. This precious, potent together time will relax both of you, bring you closer, and give your child confidence at home that will transfer to the outside world of school. Besides, these school years will fly by. You don't want to miss this opportunity to snuggle on the bed with your loved one and read a story together before the lights go out. You will, most likely, dearly miss this when fifth or sixth grade rolls around, unless you continue to read novels aloud together (which is actually a lot of fun!). Even if you are a parent that has to travel, you can visit Bedtime Story online and read a story to your child over the phone.

  5. Once the lights go out, leave your child to fall asleep alone. This will help to develop independence as well as make it easier to go back to sleep after normal awakenings during the night.

For ADHD children or other extremely difficult customers in the sleep department, Patricia Quinn, M.D. published some excellent tried and true bedtime techniques in ADDitude Magazine. If your child falls into this category, check it out.

(Special thanks to Lisa Olmos, mother of two in Imperial Beach, California for requesting this blog topic.)