May is nationally recognized as Better Sleep Month in an effort to bring awareness to the importance of sleep and to encourage people of all ages to improve their sleep patterns.
We know that sleep is essential to our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Those who get it live longer, better, healthier lives. Those who don’t get it suffer the consequences: reduced memory, alertness and concentration, irritability and mood swings, stress and a weakened immune system. Lack of sleep makes us less productive at work or in school and our ability to reason and problem solve is compromised. If poor sleep continues or sleep disorders develop, we are at greater risk for substance abuse (self-medicating with alcohol or tranquilizers to promote sleep and/or abusing stimulants to remain awake and alert) and obesity as well as a number of diseases including diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, cardiac disease, stroke and certain cancers. There is no way around it; healthy sleep is an absolute necessity.
When it comes to children and teens in particular, a newly released study by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that young children and teens are getting neither the quality nor the quantity of healthy sleep that they desperately need.
While sleep needs vary for different age groups, and even among individuals, the general rule of thumb according to the National Sleep Foundation is:
School-age children (5-10 years of age) need between 10 -11 hours of sleep
Teens (11-17 years of age) need between 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep
Adults (18 and older) need between 7-9 hours of sleep
While the amount of sleep is vitally important, quality of sleep is also key. Electronic distractions appear to be the number one culprit preventing our children from getting quality sleep; with 3 out of 4 kids aged 6-17 having at least one electronic device in the bedroom. In addition to the brain being stimulated from the activity, experts say the background screen light of even a small cell phone or iPod is enough to disrupt brain chemicals.
Follow these tips for improving your child’s quality of sleep:
Set appropriate and consistent bedtimes for each individual child;
Require all electronics to be turned off and put away one hour prior to bedtime;
Encourage a relaxing bedtime routine like reading or listening to soothing music;
Create a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool environment (between 54 and 75 degrees);
Set a good example with your own healthy sleep habits.
For more information on achieving better sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation.
Sources: National Sleep Foundation: How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?, What Health: Better Sleep Month 2014.