Posts Tagged ‘ Sleep Guidelines ’

Sleep And School Performance: Setting The Stage For A Good Year For Your Child

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Once kids are school-age, we don’t talk as much about sleep methods as we do for infants and toddlers. What we focus on is setting the proper schedule for a child, and making sure that good – and repetitive – routines are in place to help a child get the sleep they need. And as kids (and parents) start the school year, it’s worth revisiting some of the key points  - especially since there is a large (and growing) research literature documenting how a lack of proper sleep can negatively affect school performance (at any developmental stage).

You need to determine if your child is getting enough sleep. You can click here to read a prior blog post that went into this in some detail, but here are some very rough averages to keep in mind:

Ages 3 – 5: 11-12 hours

Ages 6 – 8: 10-11 hours

Ages 9-11: 10-11 hours

Ages 12-14: 9.5 – 10 hours

Ages 15-17: 9 hours

Since these are averages, your child may get a little more or less than what is listed above. That’s not necessarily bad – all kids are different. But you need to look for signs that the amount of sleep they get is right for them – or put another way, wrong for them. Signs of sleep deprivation are most telling at any age. Kids should not have difficulties waking up at the designated time during the school year. You shouldn’t have to work hard to wake them – and if they use an alarm, they shouldn’t have a tough time waking up to it. They shouldn’t be overly groggy when they get up. During the school day, they shouldn’t be yawning a lot or finding it tough to stay awake in class (a number of studies are documenting this phenomenon in school classrooms). For young kids, they should be tired when it’s nap time (not way before). For older kids, they just shouldn’t be overly tired during the day. Younger kids may be tired at the end of the school day (especially in the afternoon if they go all day), but they shouldn’t be exhausted and look like they are going to crash (it’s a sign that they are not getting enough sleep at night) – they need to crash at bedtime. Older kids shouldn’t be falling asleep in the afternoon.

These signs of sleep deprivation are critically important – plenty of studies show that sleep deprivation is associated with less learning and lower academic performance at every age.

What do you do if your child shows signs of sleep deprivation? You need to revisit their sleep cycle and figure out how much sleep they are getting. Work backwards from the time they have to get up, and figure out a new target sleep time using the averages listed above (note: not just bedtime – you need to know when they are actually going to sleep). You can introduce gradual changes  - modify the sleep time by 15 minute intervals every few nights and try to build toward the goal. What you want to do is find that sweet spot where a child’s own rhythm will get them ready for sleep at the right time – and you will know when that happens when they fall asleep in 15 – 20 minutes or so once they are in bed. You may need to examine the sleep ritual. What is your kid doing the 30 – 45 minutes before it’s bedtime? This is typically not the time for electronics, stimulating games, or television. It’s supposed to be a quiet time that gets the body and mind ready for sleep – so, think relaxed conversation, reading, anything low-key. And it’s not a time for social media either (and this statement applies to younger and younger kids every year). Structuring this time, and monitoring to make sure the rules are followed, are important – especially if there is a TV or computer in your kid’s room. Sorry, there are no big tricks up the parenting sleeve – it takes some pretty firm parenting to get this done, and done on a nightly basis.

That leads to another point that applies to all kids these days, even if sleep isn’t an issue – the problem of irregular sleep patterns. Lots of kids are busy these days, especially as they get older. There are long after-school activities and homework. The schedule isn’t the same every day. Some nights the work load is heavier than others. But the goal is to try to keep the sleep consistent during the school week – literally night after night. Irregular sleep patterns have been shown to mess up kids’ metabolic systems and can, over time, lead to gradual signs of sleep deprivation. Here’s where parents and kids have hard choices to make concerning how they spend their time and do all the things they want to do. The reality is that sleep patterns rarely factor into that mix, and they need to be considered. Many research studies – including a recent one published in the journal Child Development – show that staying up late (think cramming for an exam) has a negative effect on performance the next day. Sleep is critical for memory formation, and the lack of alertness that comes with shortened sleep often leads to non-optimal performance. So try to be extremely rigid about the sleep time – and put that on top of the list when figuring out schedules for the school year.

The issue of busy schedules leads to another point – the utility of catch-up sleep on the weekend. In moderation, this can be a very good thing for kids. An hour or two extra sleep on the weekend days during the school year can recharge the batteries (and in fact have metabolic advantages according to some studies). More than that can mess up the sleep cycle for the next week. And the corollary is that kids who have activities that get them up early on the weekends may be missing out on some sleep they need (again, another choice for parents and kids alike). If that’s the case, it’s a stronger argument for making sure your child is getting enough sleep during the week, on a nightly basis.

These are some pretty solid guidelines from research. The reality is that making sure your child gets the proper sleep to support their physical and cognitive development takes a lot of work, and it’s acknowledged that parents are also over-scheduled and in need of their own sleep (which makes the effort at the end of the day, well, feel like effort). The upside is that once good sleep habits are formed, and a solid and successful sleep schedule is in place and executed faithfully, the whole process becomes rather automatic. Of course, even with the best intentions and effort, sometimes sleep issues become difficult to solve. If that’s the case, I strongly recommend talking to your child’s pediatrician about visiting a sleep clinic. They are very skilled on figuring out real solutions to real problems (though parents will still have to do the work at home). If you haven’t read it before, here’s a link to my description of what happens at a pediatric sleep clinic.

Child soundly sleeping via Shutterstock.com 

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How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need? Even Experts Disagree

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

I’m used to seeing parents having spirited debates about sleep methods. But now sleep experts are having their own debate about sleep guidelines.

A recent paper suggests that the sleep recommendations for kids are, in essence, not supported by research. The implication is that kids may not really need as much sleep as we are told. An expert’s reaction to this paper was that, in general, the guidelines are backed up by enough research to make them useful.

So what do you, the parent, make of all this? Here are two things to consider.

First, keep in mind that the sleep recommendations – such as those provided by the National Sleep Foundation – have a lot of fuzziness built into them. How fuzzy? Check these out and notice the numbers that I have italicized and bolded:

Infants (3-11 months): typically sleep 9-12 hours during the night

Toddlers (1-3 years): typically need 12-14 hours of sleep daily

Preschoolers (3-5 years): typically sleep 11-13 hours each night

Second, consider why these guidelines are so broad.  Yes, you already know the answer.  Simply put, not all kids are the same – some kids need more sleep, others need less. And that’s where we should focus our attention in this debate. These figures do come from both research and clinical practice. As broad guidelines, they are reasonable. What I suggest is that the expert debate move on to address the real need for parents: to stop talking about how much sleep kids need on average and start developing better, empirically-supported, guideposts that help parents understand how to figure out how much sleep their own child needs. If a toddler sleeps 13 hours a night, is that enough? (It’s within the guidelines). If a toddler sleeps 11 hours a night, is that problematic? (It’s outside the guidelines). The problem is that these guidelines don’t give you the answer to these questions. It’s possible the toddler getting 13 hours of sleep needs more – and the toddler getting 11 hours of sleep does not.

So where does that leave you, the parent, right now? I suggest you become familiar with a few indicators that can tell you how well your child’s sleep routine is working beyond the obvious goal of having them sleep through the night (click here to read about this in more detail). You can start looking for these during the toddler years and beyond (once sleep patterns become established):

  • Does your child get to sleep around the same time most nights? (They should)
  • Does your child get to sleep within 15-30 minutes once they are settled in and it’s clearly time to sleep? (They should)
  • Does your child wake up pretty easily in the morning – and after a nap – without lots of prompting? (They should)
  • Does it feel like it takes a long time for your child to seem alert after waking up? (It shouldn’t)
  • Does your child seem tired a lot during the day (e.g., yawning, eye rubbing, etc) – excluding nap time?  (They shouldn’t)
  • Does your child fall asleep frequently when you drive – excluding nap time or if you are driving near bedtime? (They shouldn’t)
  • Does your child sometimes fall asleep (crash) much earlier than the usual bedtime? (They shouldn’t)

If you go through this list and find that your child is showing signs that their sleep routine needs adjusting, then it does. Continual sleep deprivation can have severe effects on kids, including interference with learning and compromised health. So getting a handle on this as soon as possible is important. In addition to doing your own research and trying out different methods, it’s often helpful to consult with your pediatrician. And if that doesn’t work, see if you can visit a pediatric sleep clinic – you can learn lots of little tricks that can help you set up a routine (click here to see my post from last month that discusses tips I learned) that can be calibrated to get your kid the amount of sleep that’s right for them.

Restful Sleep image via Shutterstock.com

 

 

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