Holiday festivities, parties, and overnight guests can interfere with your child’s normal sleep routine. Many parents aren’t aware of the negative impact of an irregular bedtime on a child’s health and behavior.
5 Reasons Your Child Needs a Regular Sleep Schedule
Here are 5 reasons your child needs to maintain a regular sleep schedule, even during the holidays.
#1. Irregular bedtimes disrupt the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that irregular bedtimes disrupt a child’s circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle. This rhythm is controlled by the hypothalamus, a part of your brain. When it’s dark, your eyes signal the hypothalamus to start making melatonin, which makes you drowsy. When it’s light, the hypothalamus responds by waking you up. The sleep/wake cycle works best when you go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Irregular sleep times and wake up times can result in sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can affect a child’s developing brain.
#2. Irregular bedtimes can cause behavioral problems in younger children. The disruption of circadian rhythms and resulting sleep deprivation impact the areas of the brain that regulate behavior. Studies have shown a dose response related to sleep schedule—children with irregular bedtimes exhibit more behavioral challenges; when bedtimes become more regular, behaviors improve. A few behavioral problems are oppositional behavior, acting out, and temper tantrums. Some children have wetting accidents when sleep deprived.
#3. Sleep deprivation in teens can lead to serious health and behavioral consequences. About 70% of teens do not get the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep. This puts them at risk for irritability, depression, poor impulse control, and violent behavior. Thinking and decision-making functions may be impaired. “Sleep-deprived teens have lower overall performance in everything from academics to athletics,” cautions the National Sleep Foundation. When teens try to catch up on sleep by sleeping later and longer on the weekend, the circadian sleep/wake cycle is disrupted. It can take three or four nights for the body to readjust, and by that time the cycle starts all over again.
#4. Not enough sleep is linked to weight problems in children. Children who do not get enough sleep may be at risk for being overweight or obese.
#5. Disrupted sleep can make your child more susceptible to getting sick. When a child is sleep deprived, the body is not as well equipped to fight off illnesses when exposed to them.
Help Your Child by Supporting Good Sleep Habits
Parents play a key role in helping their child avoid sleep deprivation. You may be aware that your child should get the recommended number of hours of sleep. But don’t overlook the importance of a regular bedtime—even during the holidays and on weekends. If you are having trouble managing your child’s behavior at bedtime, talk to your pediatrician or other health professional.
Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for helping your child establish habits that support good sleep:
- Know how many hours of sleep your child needs. Go to aappublications.org/news/2016/06/13/Sleep061316 for the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. Talk to your child about the importance of getting enough sleep.
- Help your child keep a consistent sleep schedule during the school week, on weekends, and during holiday breaks. Set bedtimes, even for adolescents.
- Limit your child’s use of electronic devices by setting a media curfew (turn devices off by a specific time) and place (not in his bedroom). Enforce no electronics or TV within two hours of bedtime. The light waves from TV and electronic devices are the same frequency that the body uses to reset the internal clock. This light basically tells the child that it is time to wake up.
- Be sure your child gets exercise during the day. Physical activity can help a child fall asleep more easily.
- Don’t allow your child to eat or drink food or beverages that contain caffeine. Caffeine can interfere with sleep and cause nervousness. American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children younger than 12 years old not consume caffeine.
- Maintain the same bedtime routine every night. This may include dinner, homework, a bath or shower, some reading, and going to bed. A routine primes the subconscious that sleep is imminent.
Sleep Deprivation is a Problem for Kids
6 out of 10 middle school kids don’t get enough sleep.
7 out of 10 high schoolers don’t get enough sleep.
Source: MMWR, cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6703a1.htm
How Much Sleep is Enough?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that kids 6 to 12 years old sleep 9 – 12 hours per night and teens 13 to 18 years sleep 8 – 10 hours per night.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer who splits her time between Austin and Seattle.