Be Happy! Be Healthy! Get Enough Sleep!

My mom loved to tell this story about school kids on a field trip.  She ran our church’s tutoring program for inner-city kids, providing fun and enrichment where their schools could not.  She once brought the crew to a planetarium, thinking the star show would excite them about science and the universe.  When the lights came up after the show however, every single one of the kids was fast asleep.  She laughed at herself about her failure that day, but now it makes me think about sleep as a growing health problem for kids.

School is starting soon, and it is time to get those kids back to sleep at a decent time.  Kids are getting less sleep than they need these days.  There are too many stimulating things to keep them up- computers, TVs with cable, i phones, video games,and too much soda.  Not getting enough sleep leads to many health problems.

Kids that don’t get enough sleep are less happy, and have fewer friends.  Who can be happy when they spend their day half in the bag with fatigue?  And who can make friends when they are groggy and grumpy? There is also recent evidence that asthma and anxiety attacks are more frequent in tired kids.  Most importantly, kids need to be awake in school to learn.  Every one should know that the most certain way to life-long happiness and success is a good education.

So how to get those kids to bed and asleep?  First, begin to walk those bedtimes back earlier and earlier.  If they are now getting to sleep at midnight, have lights out starting at 11pm for a few days, then 10 pm for a few more, and finally to 8 or 9 pm.  Don’t allow any screens in their bedrooms- this is how kids stay stimulated and awake without you necessarily knowing.  This means having no TVs, no computers, no video games, and no phones in their bedroom.  Finally, do not let them have soda at dinnertime or after (heck, they shouldn’t have soda anytime, except for very special occasions).

Its back to school and thus back to bed time.  Your kids deserve to be awake in school, to do well, be well, and be happy.  And maybe they’ll stay awake to enjoy the planetarium too!

Back To School: Eyes Open or Shut?

When I was a kid, I remember my parents getting a call from my older brother Pat’s teacher.  He was falling asleep in class.  Perhaps, the teacher suggested, he should get to bed sooner?  You would think, both my parents being teachers themselves, that they would have known that 11pm was too late a bedtime for a sixth grader!  But they took the advice with good humor, walked Pat’s bedtime back to 8pm, and he started to perform better in school.  In fact he grew up to go to college at MIT, so on the whole he and my parents did pretty good with the school thing.

Kids getting enough sleep is a problem.  A toddler needs about 12 hours of sleep per night, a school age kid needs 10-11 hours, and a teenager needs a good 8 to 9 hours.  Do your kids get that much sleep on a school night?  Experts are saying that more and more kids are going to school as walking zombies, as their sleep is cut short by more demands from in-home media, sports, activities, homework, and waking up early for school. 

If kids don’t get enough sleep, they have trouble doing well in school.  No one can concentrate on lessons or hear about homework assignments when they are drousy.   These kids also have problems getting along with their classmates- who isn’t grumpy after a poor night’s sleep?  Persistent sleepiness and the effects of school and friend trouble can lead to worse symptoms of depression.  Kids that don’t get enough sleep also get sick more easily, and then they come to see me.

How to fix a sleep problem?  First, of course, get them to bed earlier!  However, getting them to sleep requires some other things.  Make sure they don’t have any caffeinated drinks for dinner- no sodas or tea.  Don’t allow any scary or violent TV before bedtime (heck, no kid should be watching TV on a school night anyway!). 

When it is time for lights out in the bedroom- that means all lights, including those from TVs, computers, and cellphones.  These media should not be allowed in the bedroom anyway, ever!  Finally, kids should get to bed early enough so they can wake up to have time for breakfast.  Besides enough sleep, kids need a healthy breakfast, big or small, to do their best at school.

So get these kids to bed on time now, before school starts.  Walk those bedtimes back an hour a night so they can learn to fall asleep sooner and not be lying in bed awake for too long.   Encourage reading before bedtime instead of TV- science shows that brains calm down better with reading.  With a little attention to sleep, maybe your kids will end up going to MIT too!