Learn how catching some Zzzs can help you and your kids have a productive new year.
There is no doubt that getting enough quality sleep is essential for overall physical and mental health.
We could come up with a slogan-based sleep recommendation: “Eight (or more) hours is enough” for school-aged children (with a throwback to a popular ‘70s TV show). However, getting those eight hours can be quite elusive, and the quality of sleep is important as well.
As we close out 2022 and usher in the new year, let’s offer some tips on producing more productive sleep.
Do we really need eight (or more) hours, and if not, can we go with less and do some weekend catch-up?
Studies of high school athletes have shown that getting under eight hours of sleep a night results in a higher risk of injury or illness. Getting those consistent eight hours can increase academic performance such as completion of timed testing, retained memory and organization skills while limiting effects of attention deficits. Sufficient sleep can reduce risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, being overweight and other health concerns.
Unfortunately, “banking” or “catching up” on sleep during weekends, holidays and school breaks doesn’t work. Getting that consistent daily sleep is the best way to go.
How important is sleep in recovery and preparation for the next day? If there is a choice between an extra hour for sleep, studying, private lesson/tutoring or massage/recovery session, using that extra hour for sleep wins every time.
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With school, practices/training sessions, homework and social activities, there is no way to fit in eight hours of sleep.
Getting sufficient sleep often means becoming more efficient with studying and learning new material (in the classroom or on the court/field/dance floor). Sleep-deprived students are slower to complete tasks, more apt to forget steps and in extreme cases may even fall asleep during key learning moments.
I talk to patients about setting up an eight-hour window — let’s say from 11 pm to 7 am. This is non-negotiable sleep time. Nothing gets in the way (even the latest and greatest TikTok video). After the reaction of “no way this is going to work,” I ask the patient and family to give this a one-week trial and report back. I cannot emphasize how many times I hear back about more efficient work and a better mood (for both the child and parents).
OK, you are getting my attention about sleep, but my child has horrible sleep habits. What can be done?
For parents/caregivers who are often as guilty about having poor sleep hygiene, modeling these behaviors can help both you and your children.
- Be regular. Go to bed at the same time and awaken at the same time every day.
- Embrace darkness. Not just at bedtime but in the hours before sleep. Shut down screens at least an hour before bedtime while dimming lights and use shades to darken rooms before bedtime.
- Keep it cool. Room temperatures of 65-67 degrees can help with starting and staying asleep.
- Respect how long caffeine can affect sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours and quarter-life of 12 hours. This means a latte or iced tea at noon has a quarter of that caffeine lurking at midnight. Caffeine also limits the amount of deeper, more productive sleep.
- Limit distractions. Turn clocks around or leave screens out of the room so you can’t see the time. There should be no chirps, pings or other notifications during sleep time.
- Walk it out. Don’t stay too long in bed if you can’t fall asleep. The bedroom can then become a trigger for staying alert. If you are awake for 20 minutes, get out of bed and go into another room. Don’t open your phone. Try some light reading (best is non-screen type) — don’t eat — and return to bed only when sleepy.
- If there is anxiety about falling asleep… Writing in a journal one hour before bedtime can help.
- Belly breathe. Make it big and fat — this can activate the calming part of the nervous system. Your child may need a minimum of 12-14 deep belly breaths to get started and feel a difference. Be patient.
How about using any over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids?
School-aged children should not routinely use sleep aids. Schedule a visit with your child’s physician before using any supplement or medication to reset sleep cycles or help initiate and maintain sleep.
Are there other reasons to see a physician about sleep problems?
Certain conditions such as snoring, coughing, excessive mouth breathing and teeth grinding can get in the way of productive sleep. School-aged children dealing with anxiety and depression may have too little (or in some cases too much) sleep. Do not hesitate to contact your child’s physician to assist with these sleep-related concerns.
Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills. Visit activekidmd.com or follow him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/activekidmd/),Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/activekidmd/)or Twitter (@dockoutures).