Help Kids Get Enough Sleep in a 24/7 World
For growing children, adequate sleep is every bit as important as nutritious food and daily exercise. Yet ever since Edison flipped on the first electric light, experts have been worrying about whether any of us are getting enough sleep. Now researchers are warning that online amusements, especially social media, are sabotaging sleep.
Not long ago, The New York Times ran a story about adolescents who “vamp” — stay up all night using cellphones to surf, text, tweet, play games and binge-watch their favorite shows. The best way to counteract these trends is to teach good sleep habits when kids are little and parents are firmly in control.
Throughout elementary school, establish a clear bedtime by counting backward 10-11 hours from when a child needs to be up in the morning. To help kids fall asleep, guide them toward a predictable, self-soothing routine.
In middle school, children grow rapidly, so they still need more sleep — and less social media — than they think they do. Sleep experts recommend that bedrooms be tech-free zones: no cellphones, video games or televisions. Period. Make it a goal for everyone in the family to get an hour of tech-free time before bed.
In high school, talk to teens about how getting plenty of sleep at night makes them happier during the day. Help them develop a genuine appreciation for the benefits of sleep so they will make healthy decisions even when you aren’t around. Here are some additional points to consider for how you can encourage more sleep.
Hold your teen accountable. Rather than arguing about how much sleep he or she needs, hold your teen accountable for behaviors associated with being well-rested. Can he get up at the right time in the morning and do what needs to be done without reminders from you? Stay awake and pay attention at school? Get through most days without being hostile, grouchy or irritable? Explain to your child that when he can answer yes to all these questions, you can back off about bedtime.
Communicate the risks. Research shows that too little sleep has consequences on your teens’ physical and mental health. In addition to the negative effects on mood and attention, sleep deprivation is also associated with higher blood pressure and an increase in stress hormones. Some researchers have even connected too little sleep to increased feelings of hunger, which may lead to weight gain.
Establish boundaries and balance. Sleep experts are convinced that being online before bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep. Light is a stimulant that interferes with the sleep cycle. In addition, many online pastimes — competitive games, social media “drama” or provocative programs — activate emotions that thwart sleep. If your teen resists the idea of disconnecting at bedtime, talk about what’s going on. Some teens whose lives are heavily scheduled feel that their only unstructured time occurs after “lights out.” Understanding why your teen wants a phone under the pillow may help you work together to establish better boundaries and balance.
Help your teen become self aware. Teens are more likely to prioritize sleep when they are aware of their own patterns, so encourage your child to keep a sleep diary. What time did he or she get into bed? How long did it take to fall asleep? Did he or she wake up spontaneously (a sign that sleep was adequate)? Did your teen take a nap in the afternoon? Doing this for a week or two may help your teen make the connection between better sleep and better performance during the day.
Children who lead full and complicated lives need restorative sleep. Try these time-tested strategies for stepping away from the pressures of a 24/7 world so your child can find peace at the end of the day.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. Read more of her columns at growing-up-online.com.