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New Year’s Resolutions: Healthy Sleep Habits for Kids & Teens

New Year’s Resolutions: Healthy Sleep Habits for Kids & Teens

By Gina Muir, ERG Coach

Now that the excitement of the holidays has passed, many families are settling back into a routine for the winter. Instead of viewing it as a letdown, we should all try to make a fresh start for healthy habits in the New Year. Elaborate New Year’s resolutions are common –and commonly broken within a few weeks –even if the intentions behind the changes are solid. Encouraging children and teenagers to get enough sleep is an important healthy habit that parents can do to foster ideal learning environments and keep them in their best mental and physical shape. We all know that lack of sleep is one of the most obvious issues that can impact older children‘s health and education; distractions are seemingly everywhere that prevent a healthy sleep schedule. How can parents encourage their teenagers and older children to be as healthy as possible?

We all know that sleep is a vital regulation of bodily and brain functions in developing children. According to Sleepfoundation.org, one study found that only 15% of teenagers got a minimum of 8.5 hours on school nights. Teenagers need at least 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep to function optimally. Of course we know that most teenagers have little desire to get to bed early, with distractions like technology that include TV, social media, and video games (not to mention a heavy workload of school assignments). Does that mean they don’t really need all that sleep? No, Sleepfoundation.org goes on to state that “ biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence –meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm”. But the reality of the situation is that students often times need to get up in the morning before 6am to catch the bus and get to school on time. Often times, natural circadian rhythms of the body have to take a backseat to our modern lifestyle. It would be ideal if older children had the opportunity to wake up later, but most of us don’t have that luxury. Consequences of not getting enough sleep are integrated throughout nearly all aspects of a person’s ability to function. According to the American Psychological Association, research suggests that students who routinely gets just 25 minutes of sleep less that their peers are more likely to report grades of C’s, D’s, and below rather than A’s or B’s.

Adolescent sleep difficulties are associated with depression and ADHD. Concentration, problem solving, listening, and comprehension are impacted, and hormonal changes can lead to moodiness and aggressive behavior. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “drowsiness and fatigue cause over 100,000 traffic accidents every year and young drivers are behind the wheel on over half of these cases.” Hormonal imbalances from sleep deficiencies can also have an impact on physical appearance for some teenagers, leading to skin breakouts and unhealthy eating/weight gain. When a child is sleep deprived, they will naturally avoid exercise and often times choose snacks that are high in carbs and sugar in an effort to boost energy. Caffeine is seen as a quick fix but is no substitute for what a developing body is truly craving –at least eight solid hours of sleep.

So how can parents encourage healthy sleep habits for their older children who might be resistant to change? Simply removing technology from the bedroom might be a good option so that they aren’t distracted by entertainment. If that doesn’t go over so well, simply encourage them to get to bed with lights out just 15 minutes earlier each day. Once they notice that they are more alert during the school day, they should recognize the benefits. A nap after school can seem like a lifesaver to an exhausted teen, but it’s not an ideal habit to get into. If teenagers rely on evening naps to make up their sleep deficits this ensures that they stay up even later at night. Breaking the cycle by avoiding naps and instead getting to sleep earlier is a much healthier choice. Everyone knows that after a good night’s sleep they are more alert and focused, have more energy, and generally feel better overall. Of course we all want this for not only our children but also ourselves. Parents should try to model good sleep habits so that their children can recognize that getting at least 8 hours should be the norm.

Let’s make a resolution for 2015 to develop healthy sleep habits for our kids (and ourselves!) to keep them functioning optimally both physically and mentally. Something as simple as getting to bed a little earlier each night could have dramatic benefits in health and in the classroom.