Children need sleep; a lot of it. In fact, research indicates that getting adequate sleep is more than a luxury. It’s a biological necessity; as important to good health and well-being as is proper nutrition and exercise. Children who receive inadequate sleep over an extended period can be expected to exhibit symptoms of sleep deprivation. Thus, it is not surprising that sleep loss has been shown to negatively impact cognitive functioning and daytime behaviors. Children’s sleep deprivation has been linked to decreased memory, attentiveness, and organizational skills. Sleep loss in children has also been associated with increased anxiety, agitation, endocrine disorders, and hyperactivity (Gregory & Sadeh, 2012).
Inadequate sleep for school-age children may be a greater problem today than in the past. Some researchers have suggested that children’s active lifestyles, increased homework assignments, and other pressures of growing up in a 24/7 society may be contributing to the decreased levels of nightly sleep noted in the school-aged population. Evening television viewing, surfing the Internet, and text messaging further contribute to the problem.
Benjamin Frankly proclaimed, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” The American school system seems to have taken Ben’s adage to heart with middle and high schools commonly beginning before 8:00 am. This becomes a problem when one considers that “early to bed” may not be an option for teens who often struggle to meet the demands of extracurricular activities (e.g., sports, student government), after-school work schedules, family obligations, homework, and social lives. This has become such a problem that the American Academy of Pediatrics has identified inadequate sleep as “one of the most common, important, and potentially remediable health risks in children.”
In addition to the usual sleep disturbances a child may face, this month we will start Daylight Saving Time. Moving the clock forward or back one hour is something that makes adults sleepy for a couple of days as their bodies adjust to the change, but it can take toddler and older children a little longer to assume a new sleep routine but there are ways you can minimize the impact of daylight saving on your child’s sleep patterns. Kidspot offers some ideas on their website to help families transition successfully to the time change:
To change your child’s body clock to daylight saving time:
- A few days before daylight saving starts, get your child into bed a little earlier each night – they may not actually go to sleep until their regular bedtime but by getting them to bed earlier, you are encouraging their body (and mind!) to relax a little earlier than usual and this will lead to falling asleep earlier too – it just might take a couple of nights.
- Don’t try to wear your child out in a bid to get them to sleep earlier – overtired children often actually take longer to fall asleep and may even resist sleep completely.
Daylight savings tips
- The big challenge for parents during daylight saving is convincing kids that it’s bedtime when the sun is still shining! If your child struggles to sleep in the daylight, try making their room darker and take extra care to ensure that their bedtime routine is as sleep conducive as it can be. No rousing games of hide-and-seek just before bed!
- If your child keeps waking too early, ensure that they understand that you don’t consider this an acceptable time to start the day. Encourage them to doze but if they really want to be awake, encourage them to stay in bed doing a quiet activity. Some parents put a clock beside their child’s bed and explain what time it has to be before they can get up for the day!
- Children with good sleep routines -have a quiet time routine before bed, stay in their bed through the night and don’t need help to get to sleep – cope well with the changes in time as they know what to expect at the end of the day regardless of the time.
- Generally it takes about a week after the clocks have changed for everyone, no matter what age, to be in a new sleeping pattern so try to have patience if you have a tired and grumpy child on your hands in the days after the time change.
Gregory, A. M, & Sadeh, A. (2012). Sleep, emotional and behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents. Sleep Medicine Review. 16(2), 129–136.
Kidspot. (2016). Daylight savings and your child’s sleep rountine. Retrieved from http://www.kidspot.com.au/.
About the Author
Dwight P. Sweeney, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Psychology and Counseling, and Director of the University Center for Developmental Disabilities at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). Dr. Sweeney has worked in the field of autism since 1971. He has directed or consulted with school and community-based behavioral programs in four states. Since joining the CSUSB faculty in 1989, Dr. Sweeney has directed the University Center for Developmental Disabilities that has provided supplemental behavioral interventions and parent training programs for over 800 children with autism and their families.