Keeping Kids Healthy Advice
Most families in the US are not getting enough sleep. In the past 25 years, sleep has declined. Doctors blame this on several factors, including television, the internet.
"There are increasing opportunities for children to do things other than sleep," says Carl E. Hunt, MD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "There are so many more distractions today for children -- the Internet, email, TV, computer games, cell phones, etc.... It's all the things children have access to that allow them to go on with their daily activities even though it's encroaching on what should be sleep time."
Experts say the sleep habits formed in childhood can affect a child's health, mood, and productivity -- both now and in the future. That's why it's especially important to help children establish good sleeping habits early in life to reduce the risk of problems later on.
"The most common problem we're seeing among children is sleep restriction -- just not spending enough time in bed in order to get a good night's sleep," says Hunt, who presented new research on sleep problems during childhood and adolescence this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Boston.
For children ages 7 to 11, Hunt says a good night's sleep means at least nine hours, and most adolescents need at least eight and a half hours of sleep each night in order to function at optimal levels. But meeting that quota is becoming more difficult for many children whose bedtimes are growing later while their school start time is getting earlier.
When children are consistently sleep deprived, experts say it not only negatively affects their health, but it can also make it harder for them to control their behavior.
David Kaplan, MD, professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine and biometrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, says these children often show signs of attention deficit disorder (ADD), have trouble focusing, and become more fidgety.
"We also know that sleep deprivation has an effect on automobile deaths and crashes," says Kaplan, who is also chair of the AAP's committee on adolescence and spoke at the conference. He says it's estimated that about 100,000 traffic crashes are caused by drowsiness and fatigue, and drivers under the age of 25 cause more than half of these accidents.
Researchers say sleep problems are a family issue, and it's important for the family as a whole to recognize the importance of sleep for every member.
"Sleep does matter," says Hunt. "There is no substitute for getting a good night's sleep on a regular basis. Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise to our health."
Some tips for establishing a healthy sleep routine and ensuring your child gets enough sleep include the following:
Set a regular bedtime for children and stick to it.
Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine with your child, such as reading or a warm bath.
Take as many distractions (TV, computer, etc.) out of the bedroom as possible.
Avoid giving the child foods or beverages containing caffeine less than six hours before bedtime.
Make the bedroom as conducive to sleep as possible -- the temperature should be comfortable, the noise level low, and the room dark.
Experts say parents should seek medical attention if their child continues to show signs of excessive daytime sleepiness, despite following the advice above. Although rare, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy may also occur in children.