As a pediatrician, I know how critical sleep is to a child. As a parent, I know you know this too. There is nothing like a toddler who missed her nap or a teenager who has only been getting six hours of sleep a night. But along with irritability and temper tantrums, sleep deprivation in children can have serious effects on their physical and mental well-being. Consider the studies cited in this report:
- “Short sleep duration (less than 10 hours per night by maternal report) and nocturnal awakenings (more than three times per night) in toddlers were associated with the development of behavioral and emotional problems at age 5.”
- “Sleep problems at age 4 have been found to predict a greater incidence of behavioral and emotional problems emerging by mid-adolescence.”
- “A large cross-sectional study of adolescents identified associations between short sleep duration and emotional problems, peer conflict, and suicidal ideation.”
Sleep is important for babies, toddlers, children, and adolescents. And what is one of the biggest modern-day culprits inhibiting our sleep?
Our phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions are detrimental to our sleep and sleep for our kids. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children who spend a lot of time in front of a screen “go to bed later, take longer to fall asleep and sleep fewer hours.”
Screen use just before bed and keeping electronic devices in the bedroom has a high correlation with poor sleep quality in children and adolescents and is associated with tiredness in children during the day. This is largely due to something called the “blue light effect.”
Electronic devices emit an artificial blue light that suppresses the body’s release of melatonin—our body’s sleep hormone. When this hormone isn’t released properly, it greatly affects our sleep. Not to mention what children see on T.V. or social media could produce anxiety just before sleep, waking their minds up when they should be shutting down for the night.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, children and screens just don’t mix, especially before bedtime.
This is the time of year when you might be considering spring cleaning your home. Might I suggest spring cleaning your sleep routine? Sleep hygiene is incredibly important but often overlooked.
When kids are whining about bedtime or teens are wanting to stay online for just a few more minutes, it’s easy to give in, especially in the evening when you’re already exhausted. But sticking to a good bedtime routine is one of the best ways to maintain sleep hygiene and one of the best things you can do for your child and her emotional and behavioral development.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to clean up your child’s bedtime routine:
1. Take electronics out of the bedroom.
Three-fourths of American children—toddlers to adolescents—report having an electronic device in their bedroom. This increases your child’s likelihood of being in front of a screen throughout the day and night, which has adverse effects on their sleep. Take screens outside the bedroom, especially at night. Keep them in the living room or kitchen or somewhere your child cannot easily reach or access it.
2. Turns screens off 30 minutes before bed.
Sixty percent of the children who reported having a device in their room also reported using that device one hour before bed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends turning screens off 30 minutes before bedtime.
3. Model good sleep hygiene yourself.
If your child sees you taking your phone into your room at night or working from your laptop in bed, he will take note and think it’s ok for him to do the same. But if you model good sleep hygiene yourself by leaving devices outside your room, turning off the T.V. 30 minutes before bed, etc., your child will be much more likely to follow suit.
I know the end of the day is the last time you want to wrangle the iPad out of your child’s hands or tell your moody teen to shut down the computer but consider the stats above.
Good sleep is critical for proper development in your child. It may be a battle at first, but the more you focus on your child’s sleep hygiene, the easier it will be for you and for your well-rested child.
As a reminder, here are the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines to how much sleep children need at night:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.