Often, new parents log and record every nap and every bedtime in order to stay on top of their child's sleep schedule. But for many, by the time children are in elementary school, parents tend to worry less. Between school, homework, extracurricular activities, sports practices, and family dinners, bedtimes become later while wake up times become earlier. It's easy to understand how the focus can transition away from sleep and onto other obligations. But studies suggest that making sure children and teenagers get enough sleep is a serious priority, as it can have both long and short-term impacts on their health.
According to , kids who regularly get less sleep at night also have a harder time falling asleep. Unfortunately, these children are also less likely to take naps during the day, and are more likely to feel tired or sleepy during the daytime. These circular problems feed into each other and result in children who aren't getting as much rest as their bodies need. And as research suggests, the sleep health and patterns children develop when they're young often carry into their teen years, where possible negative side effects continue to mount.
For example, a separate National Sleep Foundation shows that by the time they become teens, children who get inadequate sleep are more likely to struggle with concentration, poor academic performance, car accidents, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. In 2014, the American Pediatric Association even called teen sleep deprivation a “public health epidemic.” This means that sleep impacts more than just energy level, and can, in fact, play a huge role in how kids and teens function overall.
In younger children, inadequate sleep has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems. Dr. Elsie Taveras told , “Children who aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep have more difficulties with attention, with emotional control, with reasoning, with problem-solving, and also have behavioral problems.”
Dr. Taveras and her team led a study that examined data from 1,046 children from before birth to age seven. One part of the study asked parents about sleep and behavior at ages six months, three years, and seven years, as well as to complete a yearly health survey. The found that in kids that slept less than ten hours per night between the ages of three and four, they scored lower on tests, from both their teachers and their parents. A similar result came from children between five and seven who got less than the recommended nine hours of sleep per night.
To address this epidemic, the American Association of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released their first ever on “the amount of sleep needed to promote optimal health in children and teenagers to avoid the health risks of insufficient sleep.” To determine the guidelines, the AASM panel reviewed 864 scientific articles that explored the connection between sleep and physical and emotional health in children.
“More than a third of the U.S. population is not getting enough sleep, and for children who are in the critical years of early development, sleep is even more crucial,” said Dr. Nathaniel Watson, in a statement released to announce the study findings. "Making sure there is ample time for sleep is one of the best ways to promote a healthy lifestyle for a child.”
Making sure that children get enough sleep certainly isn't the easiest task, but it's absolutely an important one. Encouraging your children to read before bed, practice yoga, or even spend some time relaxing outside and stepping away from screens are all great ways to develop a bedtime routine with your child that may help them fall asleep sooner and feel more rested in the morning. It's also worthwhile to talk to your child about the importance of bedtime and the direct relationship between the amount of sleep they get and how they feel the next day.