Sleep Is Important For Children

August 03, 2016

What’s an easy way for your child to get better grades in school, have a better attitude and be healthier?

Get the right amount of sleep, according Dr. Angelo Illuzzi, director of sleep medicine for Penn Highlands Healthcare.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, or AASM, has released official consensus recommendations for the amount of sleep needed to promote optimal health in children and teenagers to avoid the health risks of insufficient sleep, according to Susan Montag, certified registered nurse practitioner with Penn Highlands Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine who is currently a doctorate in nursing practice student at Clarion/Edinboro Universities.

This is something to pay attention to, the National Sleep Foundation and AASM said. This consensus was derived from opinions of 13 sleep experts and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Sleep Research Society and the American Association of Sleep Technologists.
The recommendations in the consensus statement are as follows:
Infants four to 12 months should sleep 12-16 hours per 24 hours (including naps);
Children ages 1-2 should sleep 11-14 hours per day including naps;
Children ages 3-5 should sleep 10-13 hours per day including naps;
Children ages 6-12 should sleep 9-12 hours per day;
Teenagers ages 13-18 should sleep 8-10 hours per day.

The AASM consensus statement is published in the June issue of the “Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.”

“Sleep is essential for a healthy life, and it is important to promote healthy sleep habits in early childhood,” Montag said. 

Sleeping the number of recommended hours on a regular basis is associated with overall better health outcomes including improved: 
Attention span;
Emotional regulation;
Quality of life;
Mental and physical health.

The AASM statement said sleeping fewer than the recommended number of hours is associated with attention, behavior and learning problems. Children with less sleep have been known to have issues learning new material, recalling information, not completing work, excessive talking, being impulsive and being angry or aggressive. Others may show anxiety, sadness or feel “sick.” Even 20 fewer minutes of sleep can affect behavior. 

One study showed that students with Cs, Ds and Fs got about 25 fewer minutes of sleep and went to bed about 40 minutes later than A and B students, she said.

Few children complain about being sleepy, Montag said, but they are. In a study of elementary-age children, nearly 40 percent showed some of sleep problems and 10 percent had daytime sleepiness. 

And sleepy adolescents may seem normal, but it’s not. The panel also found that insufficient sleep in teenagers is associated with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression. Imagine a new teen driver being sleep-deprived while behind the wheel.  Sleep deprivation can impair a driver as much as having a .08 percent blood alcohol level – the same as being legally drunk. 

“More than a third of the U.S. population is not getting enough sleep, and for children who are in the critical years of early development, sleep is even more crucial. Making sure there is ample time for sleep is one of the best ways to promote a healthy lifestyle for a child,” Illuzzi said.

For this school year, parents need to start thinking about sleep schedules now. “Start six weeks before school starts,” Montag said. Evaluate when your child is going to bed and getting up. Adjust that schedule by one-half hour each week leading up to school. 

For example, a child is to get up at 6 a.m. for school. In the summer, he is staying up until 10 p.m. to get up at 8 a.m.  Adjust his schedule by half an hour the first week for a 9:30 p.m. bedtime and 7:30 a.m. wake up.  Then, adjust it again the following week for 9 p.m. bedtime and 7 a.m. wake up, and so on.

By the time school starts, the student will have been sleeping with a school schedule a week or two. That’s less stress on the parents and the student. 

To encourage bedtimes be on-time, start with periodic reminders beforehand of when bed time is. Children should at least be reminded 30 minutes before bedtime and again at 10 minutes before bedtime.

How can you help a young person sleep better?

First, turn off the technology. “TV, cell phones, tablets and other devices release a blue light that tells the brain not to release melatonin. This breaks up a person’s body circadian rhythm and sleep won’t come easy.”

Some young people say that their cell phones are also their alarm clocks. That’s fine, said Montag, but put them on do not disturb until a half hour before wake-up time and turn them screen down on a nightstand next to you. There should be limits on texting in the evening.

And there shouldn’t be other lights, either. Bedrooms should be dark or have a dim nightlight. They should be quiet and cool, too.

Also, exercising before bed is not a good idea. An hour before bed should be quiet time. If a child is showing signs of hyperactivity, he or she is over tired.  “If you think your child is hyperactive or has an attention deficit disorder, keep a sleep log. Is it really a lack of sleep?” Montag said. “It’s worth checking.”

Limit caffeine. “Noon should be the last time for caffeine,” Montag said. Pay attention to products that don’t seem caffeinated but are, such as some non-cola drinks and chocolate.

Don’t use over-the-counter products to induce sleep. Some people may like to give medications that a child doesn’t need in order to make them sleepy. “Don’t do it,” Montag said. 

Teens should not smoke. Encourage children to stay smoke-free, and keep second-hand smoke away from all children.

To get going in the morning, the best start is exposure to sunlight.  Open shades or put on extra lights. It initiates our body’s rhythm and gets us moving. 

If a young person is having problems, remember that young people can have sleep disorders, Montag said. 

Parents should watch their children’s sleep habits, routines and how they sleep. Are they restless? Do they snore? Perhaps there is a medical issue that is causing poor sleep.   Asthma, allergies, enlarged tonsils, gastrointestinal problems and other issues can affect sleep and parents may not realize their children are getting less sleep than they think they are.

If over the age of five or six and the child is still wetting the bed, there could be issues, she said. It could be sleep-related or a urinary tract infection, blood sugar or other issue. 

And the best way to help is to keep children on a regular schedule. “Kids don’t do well on a varied adult-like schedule as they do with consistency,” Montag said. “Give your child every advantage for school. A good night’s sleep is an easy way to do that.”