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Parents’ Wake-Up Call

Are the Kids Getting Enough ZZZZS?

Life just seems to get busier and busier for our kids. The schoolwork, music lessons, and activities get harder and harder to fit into the day, so the bedtime slips later and later into the night.

There is an epidemic among children that’s going largely unrecognized: sleep deprivation. The symptoms can be quite variable including decreased energy, moodiness, irritability, and depression. Insufficient sleep can mimic other diagnoses, such as ADHD, with issues like an inability to concentrate, problematic behaviors, and negative self-image.Studies have also linked an increase in injuries with children’s lack of sleep. A big safety concern is the sleep-deprived teenager behind the wheel. When lack of sleep catches up with your child, there are lapses in attention. Falling asleep for several seconds at a time while driving certainly increases chances for accidents.

Kids rarely complain about the lack of sleep. That’s why it’s crucial for parents to help their children develop good sleep habits. A few simple steps can get you started. First, know how much sleep is recommended for your child’s age. Toddlers need as much as twelve hours; school-age children between five and twelve years need about ten to eleven hours; and adolescents need eight-and-ahalf to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep daily.Second, establish a consistent bedtime.Inconsistent bedtimes create a situation equivalent to homemade jet lag, and the body has a hard time adjusting. Third, evaluate the sleep environment. Television, videogames, computers, and cell phones should not be in the child’s bedroom.These devices are distracting and make it harder for a child to fall asleep.

Pay attention to the basics where sleep is concerned. Most children sleep better in a dark environment, but some may be more comfortable with a nightlight.

For children having a hard time falling asleep, a sound machine or some relaxing music may help. Younger children may need the comfort of a security object such as a special blanket or stuffed animal.Lastly, create a bedtime routine. Children need and thrive on routine. The routine needs to start long before the designated bedtime, by turning off the electronics one to two hours prior to bedtime.Provide a light snack, but stay away from products that contain caffeine. Reading a story is a nice way to conclude the bedtime ritual. Older children may enjoy recapping the highlights of the day or recounting blessings.

Kids need to know the tangible benefits of sleep. “You grow when you sleep,” I tell my young patients all the time. What a great thing to remind a young athlete during basketball or volleyball tryouts.Kids can maximize genetic growth potential by getting to bed on time. Sleep is also when your brain organizes all the material kids have studied. Research has shown memory improves with proper amounts of sleep. That all-nighter suddenly makes a lot less sense.

If your child continues to have sleep problems, seek the advice of your healthcare provider. There could be underlying medical issues. Proper rest will help your child perform better in school and be happier throughout the day. Healthy sleep habits do not happen overnight, but become established through consistency. Do make sleep a family priority.

Jan Dalby, CPNP, is a nurse practitioner with Pediatric Associates of Richmond where she has counseled parents for over twenty years.
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