Most parents are aware of the importance of a nutritious diet and regular physical exercise for their children’s health, but surprisingly, another vital aspect of our physical and mental well-being is often overlooked: SLEEP.
It has long been known that sleep is critical for recovery and development of brain functions such as learning new information and storing long-term memories. The latest discoveries are also showing that uninterrupted sleep is vital for kids because the growth hormone needed for tissue and muscle development is primarily released during sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, preschoolers should be getting 10 to 13 hours, kids 6 to 13 years old need 9 to 11 hours, and teens require 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.
Inadequate sleep also increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and a weaker immune response. Sleep modulates the neuroendocrine system and glucose metabolism. Insufficient sleep can also depress the immune system, leaving kids more vulnerable to illness.
In addition to physical symptoms, sleep debt can cause behavioral and emotional problems. It can shorten kids’ attention span and even cause symptoms similar to ADHD. A study of 2,500 kids ages 6 to 15 confirmed that kids with sleep problems are more likely to be hyper, impulsive and aggressive. Kids tend to become hyperactive and explosive as they try to compensate for their exhaustion.
What can you do to help your child sleep better? Here are tips for creating a healthy sleeper:
• Be consistent with a bedtime routine. Enforce an early bedtime. Early bedtimes ensure that children do not become overtired. When a child is overtired, it becomes more difficult for the child to settle down and fall asleep. Routine is also important for retraining their brain to its circadian rhythm, so it supports the regulation of melatonin (sleep hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone).
• Get outside. Middle of the day sun exposure reacts with photoreceptors in our eyes to help sync our circadian rhythm hormones.
• Turn off the technology. Smartphones and tablets emit blue-white light which mimics the sun and stimulates the brain. If you can’t move electronics out of the bedroom, turn them off or at least set them to airplane mode. Turn off the Wi-Fi in your house overnight to stop unnecessary EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure.
• Sleep in a dark room. Sleeping in a completely dark room allows us to get to a deeper state of sleep. If you child needs a nightlight to fall asleep, it should be amber or red in color, or else shut it off when you go to sleep. A dark room also prevents them from waking during the night.
• Do not give sugary snack before bed. If your child is hungry, give something high in protein and good fats, like a handful of almonds. Eating sweets near bedtime causes a spike in blood sugar followed later by a drop, which leads to a feeling of hunger and may leave kids awake in the middle of the night.
• Keep bedrooms clean and free of allergens, which can cause sleep-disordered breathing and insomnia.
• Try to teach your kids a form of mindfulness before sleeping. Simple breathing exercises can quiet the mind, reduce stress and improve sleep.
If your child suffers more serious sleep issues, seek the help of a holistic doctor (acupuncturist, chiropractor, naturopath, etc.) who can help you determine the root cause for the insomnia.