It’s a recurring argument this time of year in homes with school-age children: You tell junior to wrap up his video game, he resists, you insist, a verbal tug of war ensues, and you’ve wasted more energy than you have at that time of day.
While you focus on preventing an overly tired child, who tends to misbehave as a result, sleep experts warn that chronic sleep deprivation in children may have more serious consequences than a grumpy kid.
“Children who have prolonged sleep deprivation tend to suffer from mood swings, and lack concentration, critical thinking and problem solving skills,” said neurologist David Seiden, M.D. , a sleep medicine specialist and medical director of Baptist Sleep Center at Pembroke Pines . “Many of these symptoms overlap with those of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which could be misdiagnosed.”
So how and when do you establish a routine to get your children in a healthy sleep pattern for back to school?
Dr. Seiden says parents should ideally keep their kids on a regular sleep schedule throughout the year. But, if like most parents, you’ve relaxed your bedtime enforcement, he suggests getting back on track now.
Having general guidelines for the number of hours children of certain ages need can be a start.
Dr. Seiden admits these recommendations don’t work with every child, but they’re at least a range for parents to follow:
• 6 to 9 year olds should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night.
• 10 to 14 year olds should get 9 to 10 hours.
• 15 and up need about 8 to 9 hours.
He says a common cause of sleep deprivation among teenagers, is delayed sleep phase syndrome , when the body’s internal clock is reset to fall asleep later.
“The importance of sleep often becomes secondary to other activities,” he said. “Children who repeatedly go to bed later than normal have trained their sleep cycle to occur later. So when they are told to go to bed earlier than that time, they can’t sleep.”
And when school starts and kids need to get up earlier, that lack of a full night of sleep adds to a child’s sleep deprivation.
Reestablishing a Routine
To reestablish a healthy sleep schedule, Dr. Seiden suggests parents do the following:
• Limit night television viewing and video game playing.
• Eliminate caffeinated drinks in the evening.
• Keep regular schedules with the same time in and out of bed on a daily basis.
• Allow sunlight into their rooms in the morning to signal the body to awaken.
Unless a true sleep disorder is suspected, Dr. Seiden counsels parents not to worry too much and to follow these common-sense guidelines.