Implementing bed times can be a struggle. Whether enforced upon a return from vacation, at the start of a new school year or even just in an effort to improve the family routine, a healthier sleep schedule is likely to be met with resistance. But despite the moans and groans parents may suffer when it’s time to settle into an early-to-bed and early-to-rise schedule, there’s a lot to be said for adhering to regular bedtimes when it comes to kids. As with their adult counterparts, children and teens are getting less and less sleep, and just like with grown-ups, insufficient sleep is linked to a myriad of juvenile health concerns.
In the last decade, researchers have begun to turn their focus to the unique problems overtired children and adolescents face. Studies have shown that sleep deficiency has far-reaching effects including childhood obesity, behavioral problems, and impaired cognitive performance. More recently, scientists have also found a link between decreased sleep duration and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in children; British children who get just one hour less of sleep than recommended were found to have higher risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including higher levels of blood glucose and insulin resistance. Teenagers, too, have their own difficulties balancing early school times with their bodies’ inherent inclination to stay awake longer and sleep in later. Many counties throughout the nation have attempted to address this circumstance by reworking school start times to allow middle and high schoolers to sleep in.
Simply put, inadequate sleep is affecting all members of our families. And while the onslaught of concerning research can feel overwhelming, there is evidence that taking small steps can have a big impact over time. One of the first things that parents can do is get an idea of just how much sleep their children should be getting; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
And despite the fact that older children and teens will beg to stay up later and sleep in on the weekends, it’s really best to enforce a regular bedtime. Going to bed and waking within one hour of the normal routine will help keep the body on schedule. Failing to do so will make sleep harder to come by and confuse the body’s clock. This so-called “social jetlag” has also been known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults, so it’s best for the whole family to remain on schedule as much as possible, throughout the year.Once you’ve established the right sleep duration, the next step is creating good sleep hygiene. Just like with adults, kids and teens need to have a solid, healthy bedtime routine to set the stage for a good night’s sleep. And some of the rules are the same regardless of age: no screen time an hour prior to sleep (in fact, keep screens out of the bedroom all together), avoid caffeine in the late afternoon/evening, be sure to get daily exercise, spend some time outside (especially in the morning) each day, and keep bedrooms dark and cool. Specific to younger children is encouraging them to sleep in their own room. For those kids who wake in the middle of the night and come into a parent’s room seeking comfort, it’s actually better for the parent to return the child to his or her bed and comfort them there.
It’s also beneficial for both teens and children to create a soothing bedtime routine, like a warm bath or shower and maybe some quiet time reading or looking at books. Habitually doing similar things before bed gives the brain the message that it should start winding down and prepare for sleep.
And if you make the effort to help your kids and young adults create good sleep hygiene, it’ll probably be worth it for you to take the extra step to incorporate a healthy pre-bed routine for yourself. After all, parents are the first role models kids have and by setting a good example you can help give your kids an edge for much needed rest in this crazy, busy world.
This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on September 14, 2017
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