Modern kids are becoming more and more sleep-deprived, and up to 40% of parents complain that their children have trouble falling asleep. Is there one fix that fits all?
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The danger of sleep deprivation
Scientists are convinced: proper sleep is just as important for children as nutrition. A 5-year-old should get 11 hours of sleep each night, older kids need ten. And yet, more and more children stay up late watching tv or playing on their tablet. This should be a concern: having just one our less sleep each night can lead to bad consequences:
- Worse cognitive performace – according to statistics, sleeping two hours less leads to a drop in school results equivalent to having studied two years (!) less (see here for more info);
- Difficulty concentrating, anxiety, restlessness, and other symptoms that mimic ADHD;
- Obesity – lack of sleep produces an imbalance of the ghrelin hormone and causes a feeling of hunger; studies show that sleep-deprived kids have a higher risk of being overweight;Family trouble – when kids do not sleep, parent can’t either; it can produce stress at work and problems in the family.
Too much confusing advice
Exhausted parents often turn to the internet for tips on how to make their kids sleep, but the advice is all over the place. Some “experts” say that you should lie down with your kids till they fall asleep, or that you can take them to sleep in your bed, or rock them, or give them a massage, or show them a soothing video… Some specialists claim that you cannot leave your child alone, because he or she will feel abandoned and insecure. Others state that you shouldn’t stay with them, since it can produce a dependent personality. The task of putting children to sleep has produced a veritable industry of CDs, vibrating toys, and self-help books. However, the best solution can also be quite simple.
According to sleep disorder specialists, the main thing that prevents kids from sleeping are device screens. Our body has a mechanism to fall asleep: when the sun goes down, we produce a hormone called melatonin, which creates the feeling of sleepiness. However, blue light coming from TVs, computers, tablets, and smart phones interferes with melatonin production, especially in children – apparently, staring at one’s phone for just a few minutes can postpone sleep by an hour or more (more info in this study)
Therefore, if you want your kid to sleep, establish a rule: no screens starting from one hour before bed. That means no TV, either! At first your child may protest, but be firm.
Here are a few more useful tips:
- It’s ok to lie down and cuddle with your child or rock them, but not till they fall asleep! Otherwise, you can create sleep onset dependency – a situation where a child only falls asleep under certain conditions (next to you, or after drinking some milk, or being rocked).
- If your child wakes up in the middle of the night and calls you, you can comfort them with words and a touch – but don’t lift the child out of bed or rock them, or bring them food or drink.
- Some soothing music can help, as well as white noise – as long as they don’t come out of a device with a lit-up screen;
- Establish a bed-time routine that may include a bath, reading a story, putting the toys in order, and so on, – and make it clear that it is you who decides when it’s time for bed (more on the importance of routine);
- A lot of kids get excited if they eat sugary things in the evening; therefore, go for some fruit rather than cake as dessert.
The key thing to keep in mind is that children need to fall asleep on their own – not just when they go to bed, but when they wake up during the night, too. The best help you can provide as a parent is create a soothing environment conductive to sleep and let nature do the rest.