Ask the Doctor
Vivian Rider, MD, Pediatrician at Stellis Health - Monticello
Helping your child sleep well
Question: Since school has started, my child has been having issues sleeping. Do you have any advice to help her get the sleep she needs?
Answer: As a pediatrician, I spend a lot of time talking about sleep. And this is understandable, because sleep is so important. With kids going back to school recently, some are struggling with getting enough sleep. This can be due to needing to re-establish bedtimes that may have drifted too late during the summer, adding in homework, sports and other after school activities, and also habits that make it more difficult to fall asleep.
The American Academy of Pediatrics established new sleep guidelines for children this year. They recommend 9 to 12 hours for children age 6 to 12, and 8 to 10 hours for teens.
Why is sleep so important? Studies have shown that children who get enough sleep have better attention spans, learning, behavior, and emotional well-being. Lack of adequate sleep can lead to problems with learning as well as more injuries, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and depression.
It is estimated that 85 percent of all teens do not get adequate sleep. One reason for this is that the “sleep hormone” melatonin is secreted later for teens than for children and adults. Some communities have decided to have later start times for high school to help this problem. But the fact is that most teenagers have to get up earlier than their brains would like.
Parents can’t change the school start time, but there are some things that can be done to help their children get enough sleep. One big problem that affects the sleep of children and teens is constant exposure to video screens. Looking at lit screens stimulates wakefulness. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that televisions, computers, smartphones and other screens not be in children’s bedrooms. They recommend turning off all screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Other changes that can promote good sleep are limiting caffeine, getting regular exercise, and avoiding violent movies and video games at night.
A bedtime routine, such as bath and brushing teeth followed by reading together should start in infancy. A regular bedtime, preceded by down time with no electronics is beneficial even for teens. Reading is fine as long as it’s a real book, not a phone or iPad. Keeping a strict bedtime can be difficult for busy kids with homework and activities, but it should be a goal. Late night texting and talking can be avoided by not allowing phones in the bedroom at night.
Some children and teens have trouble falling asleep even if they are following these guidelines. Occasional insomnia is common, but if it persists a medical evaluation is recommended. If you have concerns about your child’s sleep, consult with your pediatrician.