Written by: Carrie Kubacki, Interim Family Living Educator, Langlade County UW-Extension
We all know that adequate sleep is a necessity for health and wellness for everyone in the family. However, children and adolescents are at greater risk of sleep deprivation effects than adults due to developing bodies and brains. Youth these days seem to be busier than ever with work, school, extra activities and technology. Because of this, many of them have a tendency to sacrifice sleep in order to get a few extra hours of wake time.
Lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep schedules (for example, staying up and sleeping late on the weekend) affect the delicate balance of sleep necessary for good health. For children and adolescents, in particular, insufficient sleep can impact every aspect of development, including physical, emotional, behavioral changes and the ability to learn. Research has shown that small amounts of sleep loss (just 30-40 minutes per night for three nights) is enough to cause problems with memory, reaction time and attention—all of which are necessary for learning. Even more concerning is that modest sleep loss (one hour per night for five nights) leads to decreased emotional regulation and increased impulsive and disruptive behaviors. Adolescents who have insufficient sleep also show an increase in drug and alcohol use, depression, suicidal thoughts and drowsy driving accidents.
How can parents help to make sleep a priority for their children? Below are a few tips for developing healthy sleep habits.
- Set a consistent sleep schedule for children, adolescents and yourself. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is one of the most important sleep habits we can practice. Over holidays and vacations, it may be inevitable that we call have later bed times. In these situations, it is best to resume a regular sleep and wake schedule at least two-three days before school resumes.
- Have a consistent bedtime routine. Whether for children, adolescents or ourselves, setting aside 15 – 30 minutes of a quiet routine before bed can help to slow down our bodies and minds to prepare for sleep. Routines can consist of brushing teeth, reading, and relaxation practices; however, use of any technology should be avoided.
- Make bedrooms a place for sleeping. Typically, cool, dark and comfortable bedrooms will produce the best sleep. Most importantly, bedrooms should be technology-free, including no cell phones, mobile devices or televisions. Youth without technology in their bedrooms sleep 30 minutes more on average that those with technology.
- Create a central charging station. Children and adolescents may want technology at night because they see their parents using it. For this reason, having everyone in the family place their electronic devices in a central location, like the kitchen, can prevent the temptation to use the devices and disrupt sleep.
By following the above strategies for our children and adolescents, we can ensure they are getting adequate sleep for health, wellness and development. As an added bonus, we may also find our own sleep improves. For more information on sleep and wellness in families, contact the Langlade County UW-Extension Office at (715) 627-6236 or visit www.infoaboutkids.org.