Sleep and School-aged Kids

Fifteen-year old John has accepted his sleepy days, dozing off in classes, catnapping during lunch and resorting to caffeine and sugary drinks in the afternoon.

Over the past 50 years, citizens of the industrialized world, young and old, have lost about an hour of sleep a night which equals one full night’s worth of sleep every week. As a result, peoples of these nations are getting fatter, more anxious and less joyful. This happened mainly because of city lights, modern technology and media, and habits of eating and exercising later at night.

In addition, there is a modern mindset that glorifies ‘pulling an all-nighter” and boasts of how little we sleep. The majority of people now needs an alarm clock to get up each morning, thus disturb the biological clock of the body. Till Roenneberg, the author of Internal Time calls this condition a permanent state of “social jet lag.” Adults’ bad sleep habits are setting an unhealthy pattern for kids when they give kids the message that sleep is “a waste of time.”

This mindset appeals specially for teens who have better things to do than sleep, or so they think.  Quite a big number of teens fail to get the rest they need, and find themselves in school the next morning too tired to learn.

In response, teens resort to caffeine and energy drinks which eventually leave them unable to sleep and living a vicious circle of exhaustion. They want more sleep, but do not know how to get it.

Sleep deprivation impacts the higher-thinking region of the brain such as decision making and problem solving leading them to make poor nutritional choices that crave sweeter and saltier tastes. As a result of sleep deprivation, a growing number of school-aged children suffer from sleep problems such as sleepwalking, sleep terrors, teeth grinding, nighttime fears, snoring, and noisy breathing. At school they have mood swings, and are irritable and cranky. Sleep deprivation also results in problems with attention, memory, reaction time, and creativity.

Modern society’s bedtime story doesn’t have a happy ending: On August 13, 2013, 21-year-old Moritz Erhardt was found dead at his London accommodation after allegedly working for 72 hours without sleep for his summer internship with the U.S. bank. Erhardt’s death raised questions over who was responsible for the long hours worked to secure jobs in the highly competitive and well-paid finance industry.  Many fields, like the finance industry, demand long hours and 20-hour days, weekends at work and meals in the office are becoming commonplace.

On the other hand, a good night sleep makes one sharper, healthier and calmer, especially teens. A growing body of research proves that sleep is especially important for development during childhood and puberty, and for increasing memory and controlling behaviour.  In fact, sleep is an investment that reduces stress and improves productivity. Research shows that good sleepers are less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise. Besides, getting extra sleep keeps us in control of what we eat so we eat healthy.

The impact of poor sleep on society is under-appreciated and deserves much more of our attention. In the discussion of fitness and wellbeing, attention goes to nutrition and exercise while sleep is largely lost. Stressing exercise without giving sleep equal weight does much harm. Parents will be happy to give priority to extracurricular activities over sleep without being aware of its negative impact.

How to help your child get a good night sleep

How much sleep people need depends on the individual’s genes, age and activity. How much sleep they get is influenced by how much light they get. It is essential that parents are aware of sleep issues to be able to deal with them. It is also important to make sleep education more central in health classes in elementary and secondary schools. The earlier students establish better sleep habits, the better.

What you can do at home is the following:

1.      Set a time for sleep and for waking up.

  1. When it is time to sleep, set up a calming sleep environment. Turn down the lights and turn off the computer and the TV.
  2. Watch what your child drinks before sleep like soda and iced tea for the caffeine it contains.
  3. Maintain communication with your child and develop a trusting, secure and safe connection with her.
  4. If sleep problems persist, speak to your child’s doctor to solve them early on.

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