Just How Critical Is Sleep for Our Kids?

We often get weird looks when the topic of bedtime comes up with friends and family. I’m a little hyper vigilant when it comes to my kiddo getting enough sleep. She goes to bed early ~ every day of the week ~ because she gets up early ~ every day of the week, no matter what time she went to bed. Somewhere inside me, I just KNOW how important it is for kids to get a LOT of sleep.

Turns out… I’m right. :)

I recently mentioned the topic of sleep on facebook and got some interesting replies, which led me to do a little more research on the subject! While Hanna’s bedtime is 7pm, I’ve noticed a lot of her classmates are going to bed until REALLY late. It got me thinking, how much sleep should kids her age be getting? Turns out… it’s quite a bit.

It may seem silly to worry so much about how much sleep your kiddo’s getting, but there have been quite a few studies done, and it’s become quite obvious, lack of sleep can have seriously detrimental effects on our kids.  Here’s just a few things these studies have shown:

One study done on 4th and 6th graders showed “loss of 1 hour of sleep is equivalent to the loss of 2 YEARS of cognitive maturation and development”

Another study showed sleep disorders can impair children’s IQs as much as lead exposure.

And a University of Texas study on adolescents showed the odds of obesity went up 80% for each hour of lost sleep.

Yes, lack of sleep not only makes our kids cranky, it can also cause hyper behavior,  decreased attentiveness, decreased short term memory as well as increasing the likelihood of obesity.

All these years we’ve blamed the increased obesity rates on kids watching too much TV. However, studies have been done that show it’s not the increased amount of TV that’s to blame.

Sleep loss increases the hormone ghrelin, which signals hunger, and decreases its metabolic opposite, leptin, which suppresses appetite. Sleep loss also elevates the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is lipogenic, meaning it stimulates your body to make fat. Human growth hormone is also disrupted. Normally secreted as a big pulse at the beginning of sleep, growth hormone is essential for the breakdown of fat. (source)

Turns out, sleep is really important! 

In these super busy times it can be tough with overscheduled kids to get them to bed at a time where they can actually get fall asleep and get enough sleep to be awake and alert the next day.

Here’s some tips to help your kids get to sleep. 

1. Exercise during the day. 

The more active your body is the easier it will be for your kids to get to sleep. Make sure they are active at least 2 hours before they are ready to go to bed, so the activity doesn’t actually make them more alert though.

2. Avoid heavy meals right before bed.

A light snack like a piece of fruit or a glass of milk is perfect though, if your child is complaining about being hungry before bed.

3. Don’t drink soda and/or caffeine.

Make sure if your kids are drinking soda/caffeine (and should they really be?!) they stop ingesting those things before noon. The effects of caffeine can last quite a while making it difficult for them to fall asleep at night.

4. Go to bed at the same time every night. 

Set a bedtime. Even on weekends. It’s been shown that the effect of “staying up late” on weekends is just as detrimental as ongoing sleep deficiency during the week.

5. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. 

Having a hot bedroom interferes with sleep rhythms, so make sure you keep it relatively cool.

6. No TV or Phones in the bedroom at night.

TV actually stimulates the brain so don’t make watching tv part of your nightly bedtime routine. If your kids take their phones to their rooms for bedtime chances are they’re using them… which is keeping them up later than they should be. Leave the phones in a central location, not in their rooms.

7. Create a bedtime ritual. 

The consistency of these rituals will allow the body to quiet down, and will actually signal the body it’s time to go to sleep. Your rituals don’t have to be long, drawn out or even complex. Maybe a warm bath and reading for 20 minutes, hugs, kisses, sleep.

I may seem like a fuddy duddy for setting such an early bedtime, but it’s what it takes to get my kiddo enough sleep. As you can see, sleep is a crucial element to academic, and life success. I’d love to hear how you deal with sleep in your family. Are your kids getting enough sleep? If not, do you recognize any of these sleep related issues coming up for your kids?

 Here’s some more resources to help your kids get a good night’s sleep.

Snooze or Lose ~ NY Times feature story with referenced studies.
How to Get Kids More Sleep 

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  1. Dani Nir-McGrath
    Twitter: daninm

    Great article! I know that we have to reform the habits we’ve created in this household. My kiddos really fight sleep and the bedtime routine lasts hours some days and they still wake in the night. Will definitely work to shift things so the munchkins (and mama) are getting enough sleep!
    Dani Nir-McGrath´s last [type] ..Are You Effectively Growing Your Online Network?

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