I’m asking as California has Senate Bill 328 on Governor Brown’s desk; a bill that proposes later school start times for middle and high schoolers so that students can catch more zzz’s. My intention with this post is not to debate the politics but simply to discuss. I wondered if a bill like this was necessary, are kids getting enough sleep?
The Short Answer is No
According to CDC and pediatrician guidelines children age 6 to 12 should sleep an average of 9 to 12 hours a night. Children age 13 to 18 should clock in 8 to 10 hours. But according to recent sleep studies, at as many as two out of three students are sleep deprived by the time they are in high school. The Center for Disease Control published this infographic on their site. Check it out.
So the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement urging middle and high schools to change start times to begin after 8:30 AM to give children more time for sleeping.
How much sleep are your kids getting?
Are your kids getting the recommended amount of sleep. I realized that I was getting a little lax in this area. I always count backwards to determine when my kids need to get up. We wake up at 6:00 so for my 10 year old, bed time should be no later than 9:00. And my 13 year old should hit the hay no later than 10:00.
But you know what’s been going on in my house? Bedtime is 9 or 10 and my kids start “getting ready” for bed at 9 and 10. Guess what? They actually aren’t in the bed until 15 to 20 minutes later and it probably takes them another 20 minutes to actually fall asleep.
What’s the big deal?
We know sleep is important but what are the consequences of not getting enough? It turns out that there are some pretty significant consequences ranging from health to school performance to relationships. They include:
- Increased risk of obesity
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Disturbances in eating patterns (not hungry at regular times)
- Irritability and mood disorders strain relationships with family and friends
- Inability to concentrate
- Decreased performance in school
- Increased risk of engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking
- Increased risk for having accidents
This is a fairly extensive list.
3 tips for better sleep
If you look at how much sleep your kids are getting and recognize the need for improvement, like I do, what are some of the things you can do? In addition to living a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise which I’ve discussed in the Good Health Habits Kids Can Build Now Series (I’ve included links to the series here and here), I have 3 tips for better sleep to help you today.
Tip 1: Set up a healthy sleep environment.
Sometimes our sleep environment is at the root of our problem. We tend to sleep better in quiet, cool and dark places so we can check that our kid’s rooms don’t get too hot and have enough darkness for them to sleep. I can think of three speed bumps from my family’s own experiences.
- What if your child doesn’t like or is still afraid of the dark.
- Some people don’t like to sleep in cool environments.
- What if your kids share a bedroom with a sibling and they have conflicting noise, light, and temperature preferences.
I would say, try to get the room as quiet, dark, and cool as possible without disrupting sleep. If no one is too afraid to go to sleep and waking screaming because of the darkness and if no one is waking because they are either too hot or too cold, you’ve found a reasonable balance. Set a non negotiable unless the house is on fire rule, that talking past bedtime is not allowed.
Another environmental topic to think about electronics. Sleep hygenist (people who study sleep and help solve sleep problems) usually suggests that bedrooms serve as bedrooms and not entertainment centers. This is challenging because as children enter this stage in their lives they look for their own corner of their world and most tend to use their bedroom for everything, sleeping, studying, talking with friends, watching tv, playing on computers and phones. You name it.
The trend to have mixed use bedrooms continues until they live on their one day when they grow up. College dorms, their first apartments with roommates, and maybe even their first studio apartment(because housing is so expensive) will all mean sleeping quarters will continue to be mixed use. So how can we minimize the sleep disrupting patterns of mixed use bedrooms.
As much as possible
- Eliminate televisions from bedrooms. At the very least do not permit them to be on while going to bed.
- Provide distinct spaces for doing homework. At the very least discourage doing really hard homework in bed.
- Thirty minutes before bed, reading is ok, but hard studying, writing papers and doing research is out. Reading material that is disturbing, violent or frightening should be avoided.
- Establish a cutoff time for screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Doing those things will fit into our modern lives and go a long way in teaching kids how to take care of themselves by giving their bodies the rest it needs.
Tip 2: Create a restful bedtime routine.
The next thing we want to do is create a bedtime routine that helps everyone wind down. When our kids were little, we had a bedtime routine, we would call “bedtime business”, it usually involved bathtime and reading together. I think as they got older and more independent, they needed us less for these things and we kind of just all started doing our own thing. But bedtime business can still be a thing to look forward to.
Your kids can pick three or four things they do right before bed and then these things will trigger their minds to know they’re prepping for bed. They can take care of their personal hygience, pick a few things that help make mornings easier, and then pick something that they enjoy doing. You can do it Chipotle style and throw what you want in your bedtime burrito bowl. Here’s some ideas.
Personal Hygiene: taking a shower, washing their face and/or hair and brushing teeth
Making mornings easier: pick out and/or iron their clothes for the next day, plan or make ahead their lunch or snacks, review and prep their backbacks.
Something they enjoy: read or listen to relaxing music, start and/or write in a journal, spend time with a pet, enjoy some hot beverage like hot chocolate or herbal tea, and/or you can spend some time talking with one another about your days.
Make Mama Happy: You can also help them set the habit of picking up after themselves and get a long way toward reaching your “keeping the house presentable” goals if you include a 5 minute tidy in their bedtime business.
An established set of a few things will only take about 30 minutes and goes a long way toward restful sleep.
Tip 3: Get help if needed
Talk to your kids, ask them how they are sleeping and observe their behavior. Are they reporting they are able to fall asleep quickly and sleeping through the night? Are they saying they feel tired even after getting a full night’s sleep?
It’s relatively easy to keep track of the times you send your kiddos to bed and the time they get up. But it can be more difficult to tell if they are sleeping well. One thing you can do, is use a fitness tracker to track sleep time. I wrote a post on the Fitbit Ace, a Fitbit designed particulary with kids in mind. You can visit that post here if you would like more information on that.
If you’ve made progress in creating a healthy sleep environment and set up a bed time routine, and your kids are still not sleeping well or sleeping enough, there could be some other underlying issues and it’s important to talk to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns.
This is Important!
Here’s a few more tips I wanted to share that seem hard to do but are so important. I say all the time that more is caught than taught, so…
Bonus Tip 1: It’s important that as mom and dad, you take your sleep seriously too. You do the same things you are to get your kids to do. Set up a good sleep environment, have a bed time routine and…wait for it…
Bonus Tip 2: Follow the same bedtime and wake up time on weekends too. I know, that’s brutal. Yes, I’m suggesting if your bedtime is 10 during the week, that as much as possible you follow the same routine on the weekend…yes wake up at the crack of dawn like you’re going to work(inside or outside the home) and they are going to school.
I can see the biggest problem being as kids social calendars expand to include late nights out. I really encourage curfew times that match bedtimes. That means that kids won’t be staying out and missing too much rest and on those occasions, sleeping in is ok.
As kids approach teenage years, most of them actually want to sleep longer, it’s ok to let kids sleep in for an hour or two longer on weekends but not much longer, sleeping too much is also problematic.
Well a Senate Bill radio advertisement piqued my interest and caused me to take really hard look at whether my kids are getting the sleep they need. It was an eye opening experience and I see room for improvement even though I thought I was pretty solid in the sleep department. Seeing how important it is to their health and for school performance really motivates me to reign it in and commit to better sleep habits.
At first I was kind of upset about needing a state law on school start times. I was concerned that it would be ineffective for lots of reasons. I’m wondering why a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the importance of sleep isn’t a viable option. So I kind of created my own PSA through this post regardless of what ends up happening in California with this bill.
What are your thoughts? Tell me in the comments, does your family get enough sleep? Do you agree with the recommended sleep amounts? What works for your family at bedtime? What do you need help with?
Do you think a later school time will help with sleep deprivation for middle and high schoolers?