Sleep deprivation can mirror ADHD and cause serious health risks in children. Find out just how much sleep by age your kids need to keep them healthy.
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
We’ve all heard the rules: adults, even teens, need eight to 10 hours of quality sleep. But every once in a while, the anxious middle schooler, the over-burdened teen and the working mums have no choice but to pull up an all-nighter, fuel up on caffeine and get ready for a night of no wink.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention deems insufficient sleep as a looming public health hazard, which makes people more susceptible to hard core diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, and depression, and raises the risk of certain cancers. While none of these consequences are pretty, sleep deprivation can be as damaging to kids as it is to adults. In fact, even worse. Scientists have now found that if your child clocks in even an hour less of sleep every other night, it can make them slow, whiny, and unable to focus. But before we dive further into the importance of keeping up the zzz’s, here is a chart of ideal hours of shut-eye your child should be getting:
While this recommendation comes from the American Academy of Sleep, don’t break a sweat if there’s sleeplessness in Toddlerville. Every child is different, there are sound sleepers and light sleepers, but as long as your cherub falls in the bell curve there’s no reason to worry.
What Happens To Your Body When You Sleep
When we’re catching up on the winks, our bodies aren’t slacking; they’re refueling and reloading for tomorrow’s slog.
Your brain is wide awake the entire time you’re asleep, busy rewiring the cells, re-enforcing and re-cementing what you’ve learnt, and re-polishing your recalling and reasoning abilities among others. And while all this heavy duty work is happening, your heart and other organs take a chill-pill to relax and regulate themselves for the next day.
Lack of Sleep Can Make Kids Obese, Prone To Diabetes
If you’re letting screen time get in the way of your little fellow logging in sufficient winks per night, this should be your wake up call.
Basically, lack of sleep puts the body under undue strain to pump the stress hormone cortisol which has a host of trashy side effects like causing skin breakouts in teens, wrecking the body’s natural immunity, making them prone to illnesses and making children overweight. If your child doesn’t get enough sleep, the hormones, which signal the feeling of fullness and hunger, go for a complete toss. As a result kids mistakenly demand food when they just need to be soothed.
Also, a tired body makes the metabolism go bonkers and the kids worn out. They’re more likely to be fatigued on the playground and on play dates. And we all know food cravings coupled with a sedentary lifestyle does no good for anyone.
Mirrors ADHD Symptoms
Kids who don’t get enough sleep will also start behaving in a way similar to those who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). According to this article, in children, the symptoms of sleep deprivation are indistinguishable from ADHD. They’ll have lack of focus, behave impulsively, and can be agitated or excitable. Some even think there is a link between the two.
Read more: 10 Bedtime Books To Put Your Kiddo To Sleep
Sleep Wards Off the Germs
Your child’s terrible, recurring cold might just be fixable, because lack of shut-eye pounds the immune system pretty badly. When we get a good night’s sleep, our bodies produce proteins, known as cytokines, which fight illness and stress. Lose the winks and the number of cytokines your body produces takes a dip, lowering the immunity and making your child more prone to germs and infections.
A recent study published in the medical journal Medical Daily, concluded that people who slept less than six to seven hours a day were four times more likely to fall sick than people who catch up at least eight hours of sleep regularly. While there’s little such data on kids, a similar finding was reported in teens who live in constant sleep debt and are prone towards illnesses.
Bottom-line – sleeping more is not the cure for a common cold, but it could ward off an episode (or two) if you’re consistently scoring well on the zzz’s.
Is Your Teen Getting Enough zzz’s?
Approximately 85% of teens in America get less than eight hours of sleep every night –National Sleep Foundation.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, a 2016 study done by the Caritas Youth and Community Service on more than 1,800 school going children had alarming findings – a third of school children slept only about six to seven hours on weekdays!
If lack of sleep were only about daytime grogginess, then it wouldn’t be a biggie. But lack of zzz’s have a direct impact on the A’s in your kid’s report card – it dulls mental sharpness, creativity, and analytical thinking. But academics aside, sleep is the most critical component of a teen’s development.
According to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, each hour of lost sleep is linked with a 38% increased risk of feeling hopeless and sad and a 58% increase in suicide attempts. Teenagers who get only six hours per night are three times more likely to be clinically depressed than their well-rested peers. Startling, isn’t it?
Sleep debt takes a devastating toll on the young minds and bodies, and it’s also linked to lower levels of human growth hormones, which are linked to physical and mental growth.
What If Your Child Isn’t A “Good Sleeper”?
There are a lot of parenting books out there specialising in getting kids to sleep. We listed a few in our article on books for parents to help them through the hard times. Here are some other ideas by parenting expert, Mary Mountstephen to help those of you who are dealing with 2- to 9-year-olds who are not good sleepers. To get a happy sleeper research suggests:
- They need structure, routine and clear expectations. This means developing routines that don’t involve you as a parent when your child has gone to bed. The Happy Sleeper offers some good advice: first of all, keep the bedroom a quiet place, not full of simulation. When sleeping is an issue, it helps if there is a clear message that a bedroom is for sleeping in and nothing else. Take out the toys, bin the bright duvet and hide the technology for starters.
- The optimal bedtime for children aged 2 to 6 is between 7pm and 8pm, but we know that this can be difficult to fit in with family routines and lifestyles. So make sure the bedroom is cool (16-18 degrees), quiet, low light and free of distractions. “Sleep hygiene” means that parents are consistent and keep to the established routine. Make sure the bed has soft and light bed-linen.
- The bedroom is not a “naughty’ area.” Never use the bedroom as a place to go when your child has behaved badly. This sends negative messages about the room. The bedroom is a single-function place for young children; a place of very low stimulation that is safe and encourages sleeping.
- Don’t allow screens (including TVs, smart phones or iPads) in the bedroom. Mountstephen recommends reading Sue Palmer for more on this, but research shows that this kind of stimulation keeps you more awake both mentally and physically.
- Wind down for about 40 minutes before going to bed and have a calm pre -sleep activity that is the same every night, such as reading a story together. This means a “real” storybook, not a screen!
- For children who really struggle with sleep, social stories can be useful. If your child has (or possibly has) Autistic Spectrum Disorders, this site might help.
- Keep a sleep diary, as this can help identify patterns.
- If your child comes into your bed, be impassive. Return them to bed with no positive or negative response and try to avoid eye contact. Take them back every time.
Finally, make sure everyone involved (including helpers, other caretakers, even older siblings) knows the routine and keeps to it. And – this is easier said than done – don’t worry. Up to 30% of children experience a sleep problem at some point during their childhood. This may take a few days but hang in there. Because mums need their sleep, too!