Recently my son was invited to a sleepover. I have terrific memories of sleepovers as a child, but I also know kids play late and have to wake up early.
So, I made a plan with the mother of my son’s friend.
She called me when she woke up but before she woke the kids. I drove over, carried my very heavy, half-asleep son to the car, then put him back to bed at our house where he and his sisters slept an additional two hours. Why the crazy mommy routine? Because as a Mom Doc, I know sleepovers are great for social skills, but sleep deprivation is literally dangerous for the growing child.
The stakes are high. A large number of studies have demonstrated associations between insufficient sleep and poor health outcomes, including higher rates of accidental injuries, increased obesity risk, reduced cardiovascular health, and increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as increased rates of motor vehicle accidents in teen drivers.
Many other studies have shown the negative outcomes of sleep restriction and the positive impact of sleep extension on school performance:
• Children and adolescents experience better learning and academic success and greater physical and mental health when they routinely receive the recommended amount of sleep.
• When sleep is lacking, children’s ability to problem solve in social situations is negatively impacted, such that children regularly lacking in sleep have poorer social “intelligence” than peers receiving adequate sleep.
• High school students with high academic achievement get an average of 30 minutes more sleep per night than students with lower performance.
If you have to use a megaphone and a bucket of ice to get your teen out of bed in the morning, he or she isn’t getting enough sleep.
Children who are getting enough sleep wake on their own, are alert and not irritable.
Here are four steps to sleep success:
1. Bedtime Routine:
If you start when your child is an infant, most families find the 4B’s work well: bath, book, breast/bottle and then bed. The goal is to repeat the same steps each night so the child’s mind and body can slow down and transition to sleep.
2. White Noise:
Having a white noise machine or fan to create a sound barrier helps children fall asleep and stay asleep. Playing classical music at the start of sleep is OK, but that music should not play all night, nor should a child be allowed to sleep with a TV or radio playing. These “background noises” keep the brain alert throughout the night and lead to poor sleep quality.
3. Night Night Tool Kit
Once children are in bed, keeping them there is important to acquiring enough sleep. Prepare for real needs or excuses. Children over 3 can have a box of tissues, a flashlight that turns itself off when the handle is no longer squeezed, and a bottle or cup of water.
4. Limit Late Night Activities
Extracurricular activities that end around the child’s bedtime derail good sleep habits. Advocate at school and in sports for practice times that end early enough to allow children sufficient time to transition to sleep.
Dr. Kelly Ross is a pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and mother of triplets.