Everyone needs to get enough sleep for optimal physical and mental health, but what’s enough for an adult isn’t usually adequate for a child. Children need more sleep than adults do, and if they don’t get enough, it may lead to problems with attitude or even their grades at school.
Making sure a child isn’t going to school with no sleep or too little sleep can be the difference in whether they succeed or not.
How Poor Sleep Can Impede School Performance
To do well in school, kids need to concentrate. Kids sleeping in school or doing everything they can to keep their eyes open can’t learn as well. They’re simply too tired to absorb any facts or information.
Think about the times you’ve had too little sleep and went to work. Remember how hard it was to concentrate on anything? It’s the same way for kids when it comes to sleep and school.
Inability to concentrate is just one way a child’s school performance can be hampered by a lack of sleep. Too little rest can also cause inattention, poor behavior that can lead to a strained relationship with a teacher or other students, and a general sense of irritability and a negative attitude. Grades can suffer because a child can get too frustrated to work on a more complicated problem.
There are other non-school-related drawbacks to your child not getting enough sleep as well. They have a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, injuries, self-harm, high blood pressure, and suicidal thoughts when they are sleep-deprived.
Reasons for Childhood and Adolescent Sleep Deprivation
By far, the most common reason for a lack of sleep in children is parents not making sleep schedules a priority. The recommended amount of sleep for school-aged children is 9 to 12 hours of sleep for those 6 to 12 years old or 8 to 10 hours a night for teenagers.
That means if teenagers have to wake up at 7 a.m. to get ready for school start times at their high schools, they may need to be in bed as early as 9 p.m. the night before. It can be hard to convince a teen they have to be in bed that early, with increasingly busy social lives, the distraction of screens and important exams or deadlines. There can be a lot to fit in during the day.
Failing to recognize the importance of sleep by not setting a strict bedtime routine and sleep schedule isn’t the only reason kids face sleep deprivation. There are other reasons as well, including:
- Electronic devices: Many teens keep their phones, tablets, and laptops in their rooms. Staying asleep with a device in the bedroom is tricky because some kids can hear every ding, beep, and ring their phone makes. Many of them use their devices right until they go to sleep, despite the well-documented sleep issues associated with blue light.
- Insomnia: Sleep problems like insomnia don’t only strike adults. They can also cause disturbances in adolescent sleep. Insomnia can make falling asleep difficult and it can be caused by anxiety, depression, or certain medication.
- Too much caffeine: Teens in particular love to get a hefty dose of caffeine. That caffeine may keep them up at night.
- Being overscheduled: Having too many activities is becoming a real issue for teens and their sleep schedules. Being in multiple extracurriculars or sports, in addition to having a part-time job and trying to study, can lead to late nights.
How Can Parents Help Children Get More Sleep?
With so much going on during the course of the day, it can be tricky to ensure your child’s sleep needs are being met. Since as a parent you’re always interested in what’s best for your child, there are ways to help improve their sleep.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Set a firm bedtime: If you’ve been letting your child set their own bedtime, expect some balking when you try to enforce an earlier bedtime. Use irrefutable facts when telling them the new rules. Show them an expert opinion about how much sleep children need and have them do the math on how much they’ve been getting. They may want to argue with you, but it’s harder to argue with the facts when they’ve been prevented.
- Make sure they are getting exercise: Exercise can help tire your child out so they sleep better at night. If you have a child who sits around playing with devices all day, this is an important tip to incorporate.
- Make their bed inviting: If insomnia or anxiety is a problem, you can invest in some high-quality eucalyptus sheets or a weighted blanket that will make them more comfortable in bed. You can also improve the sleep environment in their room by putting up blackout curtains and turning on some white noise, like a fan or sound machine.
- Encourage the occasional short nap: If your older child is in so many activities it makes it hard to get a full night of sleep, there’s nothing wrong with taking a nap to boost the overall sleep total. But make sure to keep it at 30 minutes, or it might interfere with nighttime slumber.
- Limit caffeine: It’s not just coffee that contains high levels of caffeine. Dark chocolate and some fizzy drinks, like cola, are also caffeinated. By avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, your child will have fewer blockers when trying to drift off.
- Keep the devices out of their bedrooms: They’ll sleep better without the distractions and blue light in the evening.
Work Together as a Team
You and your child can join forces to ensure they’re getting all the sleep they need. With guidance from you and a few rules to implement, your child will be able to do their absolute best in school and be ready to tackle each day with enthusiasm.