Sleep Hygiene and Your Child
As a kid I remember my dad saying, “Early to bed, early to rise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.” Well I don’t know about the wealthy part, but lots of research supports the healthy and wise result.
Getting your kid to go to bed at a regular time is always a chore, but virtually all of the research out there indicates that it is worth the fight to get your child and teen into a bedtime routine. Allowing kids to stay up late puts them at greater risk for normal cognitive development, diabetes, obesity, and it also puts teens at risk for depression, and even suicide. Here is a sample of the findings from several different sleep studies.
A recently released study out of the U.S. found that sleep deprivation could lead to increased risk for Type 2 diabetes. This study out of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, researchers found that insulin sensitivity — the body’s ability to clear glucose from the bloodstream — significantly improved among male subjects after three nights of “catch-up” sleep.[i]
A study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program at Columbia found a link between sleep and depression in teens. “Our findings suggest that later parental-set bedtimes contribute to shorter sleep durations and perceptions of not getting enough sleep, which in turn are associated with depression and [thoughts of suicide],” the study’s authors concluded. Participants who reported that they “usually get enough sleep” were 0.35 times less likely to suffer from depression and 0.71 times less likely to think of committing suicide, the researchers found.[ii]
Teenagers who get a full night’s sleep are more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables and eat less junk food than their sleepier counterparts, says a team of researchers in a newly released study. “Not only do sleepy teens on average eat more food that’s bad for them, they also eat less food that is good for them,” said lead researcher Lauren Hale.[iii]
Children and teens who go to bed late and wake up late are more likely to be overweight than their peers who go to bed early and rise early, Australian researchers suggest. For the study, 2,200 Australians aged nine to sixteen kept track of their bedtimes.
“This study shows that the teenagers that have that pattern of late to bed, late to wake up don’t have as good health outcomes,” Maher told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The findings contradict opinions that it is normal for teenagers to get into a sleeping pattern of staying up late and sleeping in.[iv]
A regular bedtime may be important for the cognitive development of young children, researchers found.
Girls who didn’t have a regular bedtime at age 7 had slightly but significantly lower scores for reading, math, and spatial abilities (by 15% to 26% of a standard deviation), according to Yvonne Kelly, PhD, of University College London, and colleagues.[v]
The effect appeared to accumulate, because a failure to go to bed at a regular time at multiple time points in the first 7 years of life was associated with lower cognitive scores for both boys and girls, the researchers reported online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
It is of course difficult to get some children to comply with a fixed bedtime, but the research is clear. It is definitely in the child’s interest. A regular clear bedtime should be a non-negotiable issue with children. Left to their own devices they will slip into a predictable pattern of staying up later and then even more predictable pattern of sleeping in. What we know from brain studies is the quality of sleep that you get in a darkened room (during the night) is a far higher quality of sleep that you get once the sun is up.
So, does forcing a set bedtime on your children work? At least one study says yes. Participants in one study with a parent-set bedtime of 10 p.m. or earlier reported sleeping an average of eight hours and 10 minutes — 33 minutes more than teens with a bedtime of 11 p.m., and 40 minutes more than those with a bedtime of midnight or later. Surprisingly two-thirds of participants said that their children complied with the bedtime rules.[vi]
All of this being said, what guidelines should your children follow to get a good night of quality sleep? Here is a basic checklist of seven items provided by Dr. Shelly Weiss, president of the Canadian Sleep Society.
1. Consistent bedtimes and wake times seven days/week.
2. Establish a quiet time one to two hours before bedtime.
3. Predictable, consistent bedtime routine.
4. Cool, comfortable, quiet, dark bedroom. A nightlight is OK.
5. No electronics in the bedroom.
6. Avoid caffeinated food and beverages from mid-afternoon onward.
7. Regular exercise (but not close to bedtime).