The summer holidays are always a time when you can be a little more forgiving in enforcing your children’s bedtime routines. It is a time for the family to spend time together and have some fun. During the holidays, children will often get up later and go to bed later, without any set routine.
However, as the holidays start to wind down and the new school term gets closer, it is best to get your children back in to their usual bed time routine. Like adults, children need their rest, not only to feel refreshed but to be better prepared for the day ahead.
The following are five things to be aware of about your child’s sleep
How Many Hours Of Sleep Is Best For My Child?
Every child is different, but there are acknowledged guidelines on how many hours your child should be sleeping every night to best prepare them for the next day, depending on their age. These are:
- 6 to 13 years old 9 to 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years old 8 to 10 hours
The range given in these guidelines recognizes some children may cope with a little less rest, while others may require more. The guidelines give parents an idea of the type of sleeping patterns to expect with their child, which they can then discuss with their healthcare provider to ensure they are getting the necessary rest.
Poor Sleeping Patterns Can Affect Schoolwork
Just as adults perform better and concentrate better when fully rested, a child's schoolwork improves when they are sleeping well. Indeed, a study in Brazil of children aged between 7 to 10 years old found that 25% of the children who were not sleeping well had falling math grades. This compared to just 8% of children who were well-rested.
Overall, this study found that the children who were not well-rested struggled in math and language studies compared to well-rested students. Anyone who has had just one bad night will know how much harder it seems to concentrate and motivate yourself when tired.
Children with sleep-disordered breathing issues are also at risk of a poorer performance. A research group found that a sizable 18% of the bottom 10% of a school class had sleep-disordered breathing. This issue is often due to enlarged tonsils in children, and researchers found that once the tonsils were removed the grades improved.
It is estimated that 30% of children suffer with a form of sleeping disorder, such as night terrors, sleepwalking and obstructive sleep apnea, conditions which left untreated can result in serious health problems.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be a reason for a child’s sleep-disorder issue. With this disorder, the airways are blocked when the child reclines and the body awakes to get oxygen, often causing snoring or gasping. This can happen frequently through the night, significantly affecting sleeping patterns.
OSA is often not suspected by parents as it is a disorder more often linked to older age groups. Yet it is estimated that 2 to 3% of children experience sleep apnea, with loud snoring, uneven breathing while asleep, and awaking gasping for air some of the symptoms.
Enlarged tonsils and obesity are two of the most common causes of OSA for children. As previously discussed, removing enlarged tonsils can help improve your child’s schoolwork by removing the prime cause of their airways becoming blocked and returning them to a good sleeping pattern.
In the case of obesity, lifestyle changes including increased exercise and a well-balanced diet can lead to the weight loss which improves their OSA symptoms and improves their sleeping.
The positive news for children is they can grow out OSA, which is one of the reasons why the disorder is treated so differently in children compared to adults.
Phase Out Screen Time
Looking at screens such as televisions, computers and mobile phones in the period prior to bedtime can affect a child’s sleeping patterns. Our body clocks influence our sleep-wake cycle, but exposure to artificial light in the evening can affect this. Your body clock uses the falling light of day to tell your body it is time to wind down and think about sleeping. Artificial light can postpone this process and throw the sleep-wake cycle out of sync.
To make matters worse, many of our leisure time screens emit blue light, a wavelength which suppresses melatonin quite a bit more than other wavelengths. As melatonin plays a significant role in regulating our body clocks, anything which suppresses this hormone is not good news for regular sleeping patterns.
Therefore, it is recommended that children should not use screens in the hours before bedtime to improve their sleeping patterns.
Besides reducing screen times before bedtime, there are some other ways you can help your child fall asleep and receive the hours of rest they need. These include:
- Create a routine around bedtime. Using relaxing activities such as a bath or reading with your child can help create a relaxing atmosphere which makes the routine enjoyable. To maximize the potential for your child to fall asleep quickly make sure they do not eat heavily close to bedtime.
- Make sure your child’s bedroom is a relaxing, comfortable environment. A comfortable mattress and room temperature, plus a dark environment can all promote a good sleeping pattern.
- Get your child back into the habit of a bedtime routine a couple of weeks before school starts. You can set their bed and wake up time a little earlier each day until arriving at their normal school day times. This can be easier than expecting your child to adjust to their old routine from day one.
- Keep to the bedtime routine, even at weekends, and create a schedule for yourself in order to lead by example.
Poor sleeping patterns can have a negative impact on your child’s performance at school, as well as their overall health. By working with health professionals and the provided guidelines, you can help your child receive the recommended hours of quality sleep they require.
SleepQuest Medical Associate’s sleep specialists are very helpful in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.