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2017 Aug

A Healthy Night's Sleep

The end of summer means the beginning of the dreaded “school schedule.” You know what I mean: up early, get kids dressed and fed (yes, you must brush your teeth and hair), pack lunches, send kids off to school, go to work, errands at lunch, after work rush to school to pick up kids after (insert extracurricular activity here), home to feed them (thank you, crock pot) and then rush them to the next (insert second extracurricular activity here).

Then there’s the struggle of homework, shower, and bed, before it’s time to do it all again the next day. So, is it a surprise to you that many children do not get the recommended 10 hours of sleep a night? Yes, I said 10 hours. Studies show that the average amount of weeknight sleep for teens is six hours. Only 3 percent of American teens get nine hours of sleep.

We know that sleep is vital for immunity, growth, and brain development. It is the time our body recharges and rebuilds. Sleep is essential to life itself. Without proper rest, children do not perform up to par. Their grades may suffer. They do not score as well on standardized tests. Their athletic performance and reaction time suffers. They have issues with attention and increased daytime drowsiness.

Lack of rest can contribute to childhood obesity as children may overeat to have energy to keep going, or they may make poor food choices gravitating toward sugar and carbs (two friends of mine as well). Poor sleep may also be linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Screen time may be making things worse. The light from the screen suppresses the natural release of melatonin, which causes us to be drowsy. Most teens have electronics in their bedrooms: TV or computer screens, or gaming systems. Studies show that use of such electronic screens in the evenings is linked to less nighttime sleep. Teens then use strategies, such as caffeine and energy drinks, which worsen the issue and can interfere with their sleep cycle. Naps or oversleeping on the weekends can also disrupt their natural sleep cycle.

If your child needs to get up at 6:30 a.m. for school, then he needs to be asleep by 8:30 p.m. Ideally, your child should be in bed by 8 to allow for 30 minutes of reading to unwind. Sound impossible? It can be achieved with a few minor changes to our lives.

Sometimes we need to draw a line in the sand. We may have to tell our child to choose one extracurricular activity rather than two. Sometimes we may have to tell the coach that our child is unable to make the late practice this week. Sometimes we need to stand up and be the parent.

We want our kids to have the best nutrition, the best clothes, the best learning opportunities, but we often settle for less than their best sleep. If your child is difficult to wake in the morning or is routinely cranky, she may be overly tired. Kids will often make up for lost sleep by catching naps or sleeping in on the weekend.   

It’s best if you can keep kids on the same schedule each day, including weekends, but if they are overly tired, they may need that late morning on the weekend. Try not to alter their sleep routine by more than an hour on any day.

Proper sleep hygiene is essential to healthy sleep. Let’s review the best sleep practices.

• Go to bed and wake about the same time each day, including weekends.

• Avoid caffeine, particularly after lunchtime.

• Keep screens—TVs, computers, video games and phones—out of the bedroom.

• Bedrooms are used for reading and sleeping.

• No screen time for one hour before bedtime, including phones.

• Encourage pleasure reading from a book before bedtime.

• Low lighting and a peaceful environment aid sleep in the bedroom.

Still having issues with your kids getting to bed on time? Consider the herbal supplement Melatonin. It’s available without a prescription in 1 mg, 2 mg, or 5 mg tablets. It’s considered safe for kids and may help send them off to dreamland. Talk to your pediatric healthcare provider to see if it’s right for your child.

Wishing you and your family a peaceful night’s sleep and a wonderful day tomorrow!

Dr. Melanie J Wilhelm DNP CPNP is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Pediatric Specialists in Norfolk, VA as well as a lecturer at Old Dominion University. Her first book, Raising Today’s Baby, is available on www.Amazon.com or at www.RaisingTodaysChild.com. You may email her at raisingtodayschild@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RaisingTodaysChild and twitter at www.twitter.com/Rzn2dayschild

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