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Getting kids ready for bed can have its challenges. Without good sleep hygiene, each night could be started with the odds stacked against you. Dr. Brian McGinley says 15-20 minutes is all it takes, on average, to fall asleep. Not getting those Z's can result in poor school performance, difficulty paying attention, weight gain, moodiness and inability to make decisions. In older children, it can result in an increased risk for depression, risk taking behavior and possible suicidal thoughts.
Getting the right amount of sleep can make all the difference, he said. McGinley, an associate professor of pediatric sleep medicine, says a 5-year-old, on average, needs about 10½ to 11 hours of sleep, a 10-year-old about 10 hours and adolescents between 9 and 9½ hours of sleep.
A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 75 percent of teens in America are getting less than eight hours of sleep. McGinley says electronic media have played a huge role in this. In fact, studies show the effects of TVs, computers, video games and phones are delaying bedtime even more. Interactive behaviors, such as pushing buttons or socializing online, stimulate the brain, and light signals it's time to be awake. “The commercials get loud, the car crashes and your brain is constantly responding to those things.”
McGinley says another sleep deterrent is caffeine. “Caffeine use can be used to delay the ability to fall asleep earlier and can be disruptive for sleep, and then you wake up and you’re tired and you feel the need for caffeine.” To help combat restlessness, McGinley suggests cutting off caffeine at noon.
For younger children, there’s something called behavior insomnia or the more familiar term, “curtain calls.” “Mom, I need a glass of water, it’s dark, can you read another story.” For those requests, McGinley says be consistent. “It might even be just a pat or a kiss on the forehead and then removing yourself from the room, encouraging them to go back to sleep. If the interaction is minimal and some of those requests are denied, they would likely fall asleep quickly.”
Allowing extracurricular activities or homework to be done up until bedtime does not give the brain enough time to wind down.
If sleep behavior doesn't seem to be the case, a child may be suffering from a biological disorder, which may require a trip to the doctor's office. “If you do get enough sleep but are having problems breathing during sleep, you have sleep apnea.” Signs of sleep apnea include snoring, pauses in breathing, gasping and restless sleep. Another sleep disturbance children face is insomnia. “Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep or wake up too early or any combination of those things.”
A study may also be needed for children who sleep just fine at night but have trouble staying awake the next day. “There’s a real biological process here that can be corrected with treatment.” If a child is believed to have sleep apnea, insomnia or other serious sleep disturbances, contact a physician to discuss the need for a sleep study.
When it comes to good sleep hygiene, McGinley says set a regular time for bed and be consistent. Turn off all electronic devices one to two hours before bed, allowing the brain time to wind down. Focus on activities that are more relaxing like reading, writing, painting or coloring. Create a comfortable sleep environment. Cooler temperatures at night are best and the room should be dark and quiet. “Your brain is very responsive to noise and especially changes in noise fluctuations.”
If noise is a problem, try listening to white noise like a fan, static or rain. Those who like to take a hot shower or bath at night, bump that up two hours before bedtime to give the body time to cool down. McGinley adds that it’s OK to eat a light snack before bed, “especially if they’re waking up and they’re hungry in the middle of the night.”