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Healthbeat: Are my kids sleeping enough?

<p>Dr. G. David Bedney</p>

Dr. G. David Bedney

“Hey kids, get up or you’ll miss your bus!” Sound familiar?

Of course, the night before, you heard, “It’s too early to go to bed! I’m not tired yet!”

Everyone suffers in the morning without enough sleep, but research shows sleep-deprived kids suffer most.

Why? The Institute for Natural Resources reports during sleep the body conserves energy and applies this energy to growing new tissues, making new chemicals and repairing body mechanisms.

Typically we cycle through five stages of sleep during the night: Stages 1-4, non-rapid eye movement, and Stage 5 rapid eye movement. Each stage provides important health functions that cannot be ignored. For example, during Stages 3 and 4, renewal and restoration of the body occurs: human growth hormone is produced for muscle repair and tissue growth; brain connections are strengthened; immune messengers increase to activate the immune system and defend against infections.

During Stage 5, vivid visual, movement and emotional dreaming occur, with the consolidation of long-term procedural and emotional memories. Dreaming may work like an overnight therapy, easing the harshness of the prior day’s emotional experiences. People deprived of rapid eye movement sleep become moody and irritable.

So how much sleep is enough? The Journal of Pediatric Psychology reported on the work of Jennifer L. Vriend, Ph. D. who studied 32 children, ages 8-12 years, over a three-week period. After a week of typical sleep, each child was randomly assigned to go to bed one hour earlier for four nights, or an hour later for four nights, relative to their typical bedtime. The children then switched and did the opposite. After each week, Vriend’s team assessed emotional and cognitive functioning. The results show even modest differences in sleep over just a few nights can have significant consequences for children’s daytime functioning.

What’s more, by neglecting to monitor our children’s sleep habits, we could be setting them up for more serious health issues later. Numerous studies link sleep disturbances to stroke, diabetes, and early death. What are typical sleep patterns for most kids? According to Institute for Natural Resources, 3-year-olds sleep about 12 hours and by pre-school are taking shorter naps. By age 6, children are usually awake all day and sleep 10 hours per night. Seven to 12-year olds enjoy a wide range of bedtimes, and need anywhere from 9 to 12 hours a night.

The institute also advises teenagers to sleep at least nine hours a night, possibly more if experiencing a growth spurt. Research in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology (2001) suggests high school students who sleep regularly and well get better grades in school.

How can you improve the quality of your child’s sleep?

1. Create regular bedtimes occurring at the same time every night.

2. Restrict fluids just before bedtime.

3. Keep a cool room. Most people sleep better when the bedroom temperature is reduced, since the body’s temperature cools at night. Taking a warm bath just before bedtime will help because the body cools afterward, thus inducing sleep.

4. Make the room dark and quiet. Noise and light signal our brain to awaken us. So, keep the room as dark as possible without lamps or nightlights.

5. Avoid bedtime food and snacks. Blood flow and body temperature increase for digestion, which can interrupt the body cooling necessary for best sleep induction. But do not go to bed hungry; this can also disrupt sleep. Sometimes warm milk or herbal teas can help induce sleep.

6. Develop a bedtime ritual. Most children are raised with brushing teeth, saying prayers, going to the bathroom, etc. These become associated with the induction of sleep, and these rituals usually bring a sense of comfort, assurance and relaxation just before bedtime, and thus prepare the body and mind for sleep.

So, getting enough sleep may not solve all of your child’s problems, but it surely will put you on the right path for the future! Sweet dreams!

Dr. G. David Bedney is a health educator at the Robert Crown Center for Health Education in Hinsdale.

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