Everyone can get cranky when they don’t get enough shut-eye, but for kids, it can cause actual harm to their growing bodies and minds. “Sleep deprivation has been connected to a greater risk of obesity, diabetes, accidents and hyperactivity,” says Zachary Woessner, PhD, psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital. Lack of sleep can also cause significant cognitive impairments, including problems with memory, attention, concentration, decision-making and problem solving. Moreover, a decrease in sleep is often associated with over activity, impulsivity and noncompliance.
“Lack of sleep can also make it harder for children and adolescents to pay attention to their teacher and remember what they are learning, which often leads to poor school performance,” says Dr. Woessner. It may delay a child’s response time and impair their ability to focus, which can affect their safety and negatively impact their skill in athletics. For teens who are driving, that delayed response and poor focus can be associated with an increase in motor vehicle accidents.
How much sleep do kids need?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school-age kids get at least ten hours of sleep every night. That means if they have to get up at 6 am, they need to hit the pillow no later than 8 pm – a lot earlier than many parents may think.
Teenagers need less hours of sleep, but their school start times are normally much earlier than those of younger students. And they tend to have more activities that run into the evening. Aim for teens to get about nine hours of sleep a night.
“If you haven’t started already, now is the time to start transitioning your child’s sleep schedule. At least two weeks before the first day of school, begin waking them earlier and earlier so they can also go to bed earlier. It can take some time for the body to adjust,” says Melissa King, DO, director of Urgent Care and Dr. Mom Squad blogger. “Move their wake-up time and bedtime forward by 15 or 30 minutes each day until you reach times that work for the school year. For example, if they are sleeping until 9 am then wake them by 8:30 am and put them to bed by 10:30 or 11:30 pm, depending on age.”
Dr. King offers six tips to help your child get to sleep easier:
- Be consistent – don’t allow wide swings on weekends or holidays
- Keep the bedroom dark, cool and quiet – turn away brightly lit clocks
- Turn off electronics one hour before bedtime
- Wind down – spend 20-30 minutes in soothing rituals like reading or taking a bath
- Avoid caffeine
- Get some exercise earlier in the day