Tips for Helping Kids Get the Sleep They Need

Girl sleeping on homeworkMADISON - Sleep is critical to a child's health and well-being, yet many children are chronically sleep deprived. When a child does not get adequate sleep, there can be lasting consequences.


Importance of Sleep


"Inadequate sleep is associated with low mood, irritability, trouble concentrating, poor memory, and increased risk-taking behavior," says Cami Matthews, MD, a UW Health pediatric sleep medicine specialist with Wisconsin Sleep.


According to Dr. Matthews, school-aged children (6 to 12 years old) should maintain approximately 10 to 11 hours of quality sleep. For teenagers, the recommendation is nine hours per night.


Create a Good Sleep Environment


Sleep should be a priority, and parents can help encourage good sleep habits. To begin, parents can help create an environment that is conducive for sleep.


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"The bedroom ideally should be cool, dark and quiet. The bed itself should be a place to sleep and not to do other activities such as homework, talk on the phone, or other similar activities," explains Dr. Matthews.


Minimize or Eliminate Electronics


She recommends that parents and children minimize or eliminate electronic devices in the bedroom, including TV, cell phones, handheld electronic devices and video games.


"Music, if it is not too loud, is probably okay," she adds.


Get Into the Routine


Routine is also important. Kids should try to maintain a regular sleep schedule -- fall asleep and get up at the same time every day. And for older children and teens, avoiding naps can help make it easier to fall asleep at night.


"If children need a lot more sleep on the weekend compared to school days, it means they are probably not getting enough sleep Monday through Friday," comments Dr. Matthews.


Limit Caffeine


Teens, and even some children, may try the trick most adults use to keep going - caffeine and energy drinks. But that's not a good idea.


"Caffeinated sodas, coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks can cause you to stay up later and have trouble faling asleep," says Dr. Matthews. "Caffeine cannot compensate for sleepiness, and it is best to limit the amounts you consume."


Adjust Schedules in Advance


When kids are off their normal schedule, such as during summer vacation, it can be challenging to transition back to a routine. But it's important to make the transition in advance.


"Families should start adjusting to a school schedule several weeks before the start of school," Dr. Matthews says. "Ideally, it is best to move the bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every couple of nights to allow the body's sleep rhythm to slow adjust."


Wind Down Before Bedtime


It can also help to begin winding down from the day at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Reading a book, listening to music, even a warm bath are all ways to help the body relax.


In the morning, sunlight can help get the body moving again. Increased sun exposure in the morning can help shift the body's sleep clock so it is easier to wake up.


Excercise For a Good Night's Sleep


And, another reason to get exercise during the day -- it can lead to a better night's sleep.


"Getting enough exercise not only helps you stay fit but can help you fall asleep better and sleep more deeply," concludes Dr. Matthews.




Meet Wisconsin Sleep Pediatrician Cami Matthews, MD


UW Health pediatrician Cami Matthews

Date Published: 08/10/2010

News tag(s):  cami k b matthewschildrenparenting

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