Are Your Children Getting Enough Sleep?

The consensus is that school children could have a few more hours of sleep

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Most parents realize that their children need a good night’s sleep for good health and academic performance, but few children sleep enough.

Only one-fifth of children and teens get enough sleep each night, according to a study released in February 2019 by Gregory Knell, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at UT Health School of Public Health in Dallas, Texas. The National Sleep Foundation’s website states that only 15% of teens sleep enough on school nights.

“Sleep is such a hot topic during the back-to-school time because many areas are now looking at changing legislation to follow the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding school start times,” said Soda Kuczkowski, diagnostic sleep consultant and owner and founder of Start With Sleep in Buffalo .

She said that the academy indicates that there’s “strong evidence that implicates earlier start times as a key contributor to insufficient sleep and circadian rhythm disruption.”

Kuczkowski ranks sleep with nutrition and physical activity as important for health and wellbeing.

“Getting adequate, quality sleep provides a strong foundation for learning, memory and concentration, promotes positive behavior and decision making and aids in health and development,” Kuczkowski said. “While sleep requirements only vary slightly from elementary school to high school one, major biological change is evident, the delay in the hormone melatonin. Understanding this shift in sleep patterns can help students understand themselves and address their individual needs.”

She noted that The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10 to 13 hours of sleep for preschoolers (3 to 5 years old); 9 to 12 hours for primary school aged children (6-12 years old); and eight to 10 hours for teens (13 to 17 years old).

Children and teens who do not get enough sleep at night can have more problems the next day at school.

Meghann Peters, registered polysomnography technician with Sleep and Wellness Centers of Western New York, said that lack of sleep can foster behavior that “mimics attention deficit disorder, but it’s not. It’s lack of sleep. It can affect mood and cognitive ability.”

Sleep and Wellness Centers operate offices in several location in Western New York, including Amherst and Niagara Falls.

Peters added that the long-term effects of chronic lack of sleep in children can include obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Peters said that children and teens need more sleep than adults — 10 to 12 hours, compared with eight for adults — because their growth hormones are released during sleep.

Peters recommended several steps for improving sleep:

• “Parents need to have children and teens go to bed earlier. They need a set bedtime.

• “The parent needs to make sure they set up a controlled environment: a bedroom that’s cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Turn off the radio. Sleeping to music isn’t helping you.

• “Kids should avoid caffeine. Even chocolate has enough to affect sleep.

• “Have a set bedtime and don’t deviate from it unless you absolutely have to.

• “Especially for younger children, develop a routine like reading for them. Spend 10 to 30 minutes with them before bedtime.

• “Do not let your child watch something inappropriate like a scary movie, as that will tend to increase nightmares.

• “If the child is still tired and they’re getting 10 to 11 hours of sleep, contact the doctor, as the child may have sleep apnea caused by enlarged tonsils or certain facial features.

Soda Kuczkowski of Start With Sleep in Buffalo suggested:

• “Two weeks prior to school, move bedtime up by 15 to 30 minutes for little ones so that they are getting on an earlier schedule that allows for the recommended amount of sleep.

• “If your child has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep speaking to a sleep specialist as pediatricians and primary care physicians get limited education regarding sleep.

• “Avoid the use of the mass-marketed ‘melatonin’ — it is a hormone not a dietary supplement or a sleeping pill. It is a sleep regulator, not initiator, and it is not appropriate for everyone, especially children.

• “Montmorency cherry tart juice is a natural source of melatonin and has been shown to help individuals sleep 84 minutes longer versus melatonin supplementation that only has results of 17 minutes longer.

• “Create a bedtime routine that includes reading. Reading encourages not only dialogue, fostering the parent-child connection but introduces a narrative to discuss a number of topics and as an anchor to getting ready for much needed sleep.”

Julie Starr, director of marketing at Sleep & Wellness Centers in Buffalo, offered a few ideas:

• “Limit TV time, tablets, and anything with lights close to bedtime. Parents tend to think watching TV makes them drowsy, but it stimulates their brains.

• “Quiet noise like humming of a fan can help. Some noise machines can help, as long as there’s not huge transitions.

• “Don’t let them sleep with you if they can’t fall asleep because they won’t get the same type of REM restorative sleep.”

Shawn Marie Cichowski, professional coach and owner of WNY Life Coaching Center in Williamsville and East Aurora, provided a few tips:

• “At a young age, if we can instill healthy habits to have a routine to settle in before bed, that can help. The more you practice, the more it instills healthy habits. It is a self-care thing you want to maintain a routine.

• “We can go so long cutting in on sleep and the body will need to restore or it will make you stop. It breaks down the immune system and forces you to rest.”