One of the best ways to make sure children get a good night’s sleep is to insist on separate rooms for them and their personal tech.
Smart phones, tablets and laptops are cutting into quality sleep. First and most obvious is that electronic devices provide endless stimulation. Less obvious is that screens emit blue light that suppresses melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
Lack of sleep should not be taken lightly, said Dr. Jyoti Krishna, director of sleep medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to mood, learning, behavior and memory problems. It throws off your metabolism, ratchets up appetite and raises risk of long-term health consequences such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“It can also cause depression, from feeling crummy all day long,” said Dr. Krishna. “It opens a whole Pandora’s box of problems.”
Dr. Krishna recalled the case of a teen referred to him recently because of excessive daytime drowsiness. Initially it appeared as though that the teen might have sleep apnea. But a night in the hospital’s sleep lab showed he didn’t. It turned out the boy was routinely staying up until past midnight on school nights, playing online games and watching TV. He was working on 6 hours of sleep on school nights. Mystery solved.
“Teens need about 9 hours of sleep daily but many are getting far less, as was the case with this patient,” Dr. Krishna said. “This is more and more common. All the time in our sleep lab, we see on our video monitors kids are holding an electronic device, a cell phone or tablet, as they try to wind down to sleep.
“Electronic media is really impinging on good sleep habits, both time-wise and because the light emitted messes with our melatonin.”
So you’d be wise to make sure gadgets are left in a common area during the night.
Here are some other tips to make sure your school-age kids and teens are sleeping enough:
- Maintain a consistent bedtime. Kids aged 6 to 12 years need 9 to 12 hours of sleep. Teens need 8 to 10 hours.
- Bedtimes and wake-up times should not differ from one day to the next by more than an hour or so. When the weekend rolls around, kids should not be staying up late hours and sleeping until noon. This makes it difficult to fall asleep Sunday nights and disrupts sleep patterns for the school week.
- Bedrooms should be dark, quiet and slightly cool.
- Avoid or limit caffeine intake, especially in the late afternoon and evenings.
- Quiet, calming activities are recommended 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Reading or listening to music helps relax the mind and body.
- A light snack before bed is fine, but not a full meal.
- Sleep should be a priority, just like academics, regular exercise and a healthy diet.