Imagine what it’s like waking up in the morning after just a few fitful hours of sleep. You might have difficulty shaking the cobwebs. Maybe you stand in the shower a few minutes longer, drink that extra cup of coffee. All the while wishing you could go back to bed for just one more minute.
Maybe, you don’t have to “imagine” this scenario. Maybe it’s more your norm than an outlier. In the end, you survive, your kids survive, and you wake up the next morning to do it all over again. It’s Ground Hog Day.
Is anyone in your family getting enough sleep? If not, what are the short and long term consequences?
Let’s take a look.
What is chronic sleep loss?
Chronic sleep loss is defined as receiving 4 to 6 hours of sleep per night for 14 consecutive days (day = 24-hour cycle).
Chronic sleep loss in adults
Research studies show that when adults suffer from chronic sleep loss, there are significant consequences. These include elevated stress levels, memory loss, moodiness, depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, and in some more extreme cases; heart disease, diabetes, and mental disorders.
Chronic sleep loss in children
When kids are tired, they get cranky and lose focus. Lack of sleep affects their school work, memory, mood, interactions, physical coordination, and emotion regulation. Also, children who do not get enough sleep have difficulty following directions, get frustrated easily and are at risk for unhealthy weight gain. These symptoms can have an exponential effect as children have less emotional control over their actions and reactions to various stimuli they are exposed to throughout their school day. This affects everything from their academic classes to sports games to driving a car. Add to that the distractions caused by screen time and children are at high risk for serious consequences.
How much sleep does your child need?
Each child is different. There are variables to take into account including lifestyle, weight, age and a host of other factors, but here is a guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Parents have a pretty good idea of the optimal number of hours their child needs to sleep each night within these parameters. Even one hour of more or less sleep can impact a child’s cognitive performance. If your child plays sports, getting the right amount of sleep will help improve play and decrease injuries. One recent study showed middle schoolers who sleep fewer than eight hours per night, were twice as likely to be injured while playing sports.
How do you change your child’s sleep routine?
The key is to start good habits early and teach your kids the importance of sleep. Here are three tips to help you get started:
- Adhere to a strict bedtime schedule. Allow for the age-appropriate amount of sleep and don’t waiver. This will become harder as children get older, but you can make small shifts over time to ensure they maintain healthy habits.
- Create a bedtime routine. Children thrive on consistency so pick three things for your child to do before bed every night. This will signal the body that it’s time to sleep.
- Turn off electronics. Screen time leads to later bedtimes. Studies show it can delay sleep by up to 60 minutes. Therefore, set a time to power down all devices at least thirty minutes before bed, take screens out of the bedroom and make it a family effort.
When you model healthy habits for your children, they will follow suit. It can be a challenge with busy schedules and heavy workloads, but prioritizing sleep has positive health, academic and emotional benefits for you and your children. If you schedule and maintain appropriate sleep time, you’ll wake up cobweb free, refreshed and better prepared to tackle the inevitable challenges of the day.
About the Author: Dr. Emily Gifford is the Lower Campus psychologist at Rippowam Cisqua School. Emily has over 15 years of experience helping children think independently and communicate confidently. At RCS, Emily provides students and their families the social-emotional support needed to thrive. Emily also has a private practice in Mount Kisco, New York where she works closely with pediatricians, psychiatrists, schools, camps, and individual families to build strong support systems for the children.