It is becoming quite apparent to those of us in sleep medicine that children and adolescents are not getting enough sleep. I believe there are two major reasons for this, the first being that some parents really don’t have a clue as to how much sleep their children need. However, the second and more extensive is the proliferation of electronics in the bedroom and the failure of parents to take charge and set limits.
In a recent study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1,200 Australian high school students were studied. They completed a questionnaire assessing electronics use and sleep duration. Sleep duration on schooldays was reported to be less than optimal by 71% and by 53% on weekends. In one out of five, the major cause for a delayed bedtime was use of electronics. In fact, 10% were deemed pathologically addicted to electronic devices.
We know that lack of sleep in children and adolescents has severe consequences. Among these are irritability, problems with impulse control, inattentiveness, and depression. Additionally, childhood obesity and early onset diabetes can be linked to insufficient sleep.
The good news is that you as a parent can make a big difference. In the 2014 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) Sleep in America poll it was clear that parents can make a big difference. When parents enforced such things as bedtimes, caffeine drinks, and how late electronics could be used, their children slept on average almost one hour more than those who did not. In addition, roll modeling is important. Children of parents who have interactive electronics in their bedrooms are far more likely to have them as well.
What is the take-home message? First, educate yourselves about how much sleep your children require. A school-aged child of six to twelve should be getting 10 to 11 hours while a high school student needs 9 to 10. Second, don’t be afraid to set some rules. All interactive electronics and televisions should be off a minimum of one hour before bedtime, and if possible, they should not be part of the bedroom environment. In the end, once you get through the moaning and groaning you will be rewarded with a much happier and healthier kid. After all, isn’t that a parent’s responsibility?