Are your children getting enough sleep?

02.26.15 |

Over the last year I have dedicated more and more time to spreading awareness for the importance of sleep.

I am passionate about this aspect of health for three reasons:

  1.  Sleep is a critical yet often-overlooked Habit of Health.
  2. Researchers continue to learn more about the role of sleep in our lives, highlighting its importance with new insights.
  3. Just as research into the benefits of sleep is growing, so is research into the nature of our habits around sleep.

This week’s article relates to the third point. A new study authored by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that between 1991 and 2012, adolescents were increasingly less likely to get seven hours of sleep or more a day. For additional context, it’s worth noting that the National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get eight to ten hours of sleep to function best in their young adult lives.

Rest is an important part of growth, which is a big part of being a teenager, but not getting enough sleep can put adolescents at risk for the same consequences that adults face when they don’t get enough sleep.

  • Mental blurriness and general irritability.
  • Disturbed appetite regulation which can contribute to weight gain.
  • A potential increased risk for heart disease.
  • An increase in inflammation (which can lead to cancer).
  • A 50 percent increase in the risk for viral infection.

Those are pretty serious consequences that are even more concerning when you consider the fact that if adolescents are forming these habits at a young age they may be setting the stage for a lifetime of poor sleep habits. In fact, if you as an adult have poor sleeping habits, you may have established them at a young age as well.

Play an active role in creating a healthy environment

The lesson here is two-fold: The first is that we have a clear opportunity to intervene in the health of our children and loved ones by not only educating them on the value of sleep but also by playing an active role in creating a healthy environment. As role models, we can live the Habits of Health and create a home-life where electronics are turned off (for everyone!) before bedtime and sources of caffeine are limited. As parents and guardians, we can help our children to avoid being overloaded with activities and commitments that ultimately force them to spend late nights working on homework after back to back sports practices.
The second lesson is that we should not be surprised if our own Habits of Healthy Sleep are difficult to reprogram, especially if we formed those habits decades ago in our youth. The rewards for getting the recommended amount of sleep each night—at least seven hours—are great, so the challenge is well-worth tackling. It will some time, but here are some tips (pulled from a previous article) to get you started:

  • Get out of bed when your alarm goes off and limit your in-bed activities to train your mind to always associate sleep with your bed.
  • Limit your caffeine intake, especially late in the day and within hours of your bedtime.
  • Decrease stimulation from electronics and other sources of bright light at least 30 minutes prior to trying to fall asleep.
  • Avoid exercising within two hours of your bed time to help your body’s natural process for releasing the chemicals that induce sleep.
  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it all week, including on weekends.

These suggestions apply to the young people in your life as well, so feel free to share them. If you would like to learn more about the study that inspired this post, this Medical News Today article is a great place to start.