As a follow-up to When We Don’t Get Our 40 Winks from last week, I wanted to examine what the book, The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington, says about kids and sleep. Her message in terms of adults (particularly moms) and sleep deprivation really hit home for me, so I was sure her take on kids and sleep would be just as enlightening, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Circadian Rhythm

This system is different for everyone and can be negatively affected by our actions. Natural light cues our bodies to sleep within a twenty-four hour cycle. In general, however, people of different ages have different sleep needs.

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 years
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 years
  • School-age children (6-13): 9-11 years
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 years

For children, sleep is crucial for brain development. Children learn so much so quickly, they need sleep to cement their experiences. REM sleep, the time during the cycle when we dream, also helps children process emotional stress.

Sleep Deprivation

Research reveals the many negative mental and emotional consequences of sleep deprivation in kids. To cite just one example, unlike adults, who slow down when tired, children get more active. This can lead to a diagnosis of hyperactivity.

One study found that four-year-olds who lacked sleep were 20 to 60 percent more likely to have behavior issues. That percentage increased to 40 to 100 percent in seven-year-olds.

Other negative effects include: reduced learning in school, a higher risk of failure or dropping out of high school and college, higher levels of stress and anxiety, lower decision-making skills, triple the chance of catching a cold, and a greater chance of diabetes!

School Start Times

Researchers in many countries have looked at the effect of early school start times. Their conclusion: school starts too early. “As children get older, the structure of the school day becomes even more out of sync with the natural rhythms of children and adolescents.”

Kids who start school early and then stay up late doing homework learn to ignore their bodies’ signals and end up staying awake way past the time they should head to bed. That’s not all: the hormones that control the circadian rhythm releases later in teens than in adults, which makes waking up in the morning extremely difficult.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high school starts at 8:30 or later! Studies show that when schools did change their start times, it resulted in higher test scores and better attention levels, health, and self-esteem.

Modeling Good Sleep Habits

Of course, there’s not a lot we can do about school start times or the hectic pace of modern life. So what does Ariana Huffington recommend to help our kids sleep well? Children develop sleep habits by observing the adults around them.

Parents talk to their kids a lot about schoolwork, life skills, chores, and manners. Yet many parents fail to talk to their kids about good sleep habits. We also need to be good role models, which can be tough for busy parents. Finally, parents should never treat sleep as a punishment or an end to the fun, but rather a pleasant chance to rest and restore so we can get up and do more fun things the next day.

Huffington offers some practical tips, too. As bedtime gets closer, turn lights down and keep kids away from the “blue lights” of technology that shuts down the hormone that induces sleep. Keep bedroom temperatures cool.

If you and your family have developed bad sleep habits, changing those habits may take some time. Creating a good sleep culture in your home is a step-by-step process, and Huffington’s book will help you start. Everything you do to make sure you and your kids get enough rest will positively impact all of your lives. And who couldn’t use some of that?