Feb 16, 2011

Sleep, Tween, Sleep!

It’s not surprising that parents’ child-related focus and concerns evolve in fairly typical ways as their children grow. Remember the early days of parenthood when conversations included commentary about newborn eating, sleeping and other bodily functions? Then, there was a natural progression into the toddler years, with the advent of first movements, first words and first social interactions. Fast-forward to the tween years.  Since recent data suggests that the majority of parents would like to change their preteen’s sleep habits and studies show that the majority of children get less sleep than they actually need, the tween years are a perfect time to circle back and take a look at the important topic of sleeping habits and patterns.
How Much Sleep Do Tweens Need?

The easy answer is enough rest to maintain good physical and mental health. But, many influences, including age, stress, physical activity and growth phase affect how much sleep an individual preteen actually requires to function well. Experts suggest that, on average, tweens should sleep 9.5 to 10 hours per night. As a frame of reference, teenagers need about 9 hours and adults can function with 8 hours.

During puberty, tween sleep needs actually increase. The value aspects of sleep change by age, according to James B. Mass, Ph.D, Cornell, sleep researcher and author of Power Sleep. In contrast to babies who spend at least half of their sleep time in a “deep sleep” state, by the age of 7 or 8, children spend more time in a light sleep phase and, as a result, are more likely to be awakened by noises, light, even stress.

A number of sleep-related studies have found that children, from elementary school through high school, get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago.

Why Aren’t Tweens Sleeping Enough?

There are many potential causes for reduced sleep among preteens, including:

  • Bedtime Schedules — not having a standard bedtime schedule can inhibit the amount of sleep, based on wake-up time needs.
  • Non-Conducive Sleep Environments — televisions, cell phones, other media and stimulating activities in bedrooms can offset the benefits of a quiet, soothing sleeping environment.
  • Daily Schedule Demands — many schools have early start times (some kids need to catch their bus well before 7:00 am). On top of that, homework, after-school activities and socializing can impact a tween’s time during the day.
  • Family Needs — working parents may wish to spend time with their children at the end of the day.
  • Sleep Challenges/Disorders — issues such as: insomnia, nightmares, sleep apnea, and others can affect the quality of sleep a preteen gets.

What Is The Impact Of A Lack Of Sleep?

Among other symptoms, a lack of sleep can appear in the form of moodiness, difficulty, forgetfulness, irritability and/or poor judgment.

As important, “Sleep-deprived kids are unable to learn,” says Maas. “Memory, concentration, communication skills as well as critical and creative thinking are all adversely affected.” The brain needs to sleep so that it can process all that was learned during the day and be prepared to absorb new information the next day.  Since children’s brains aren’t fully developed until after their teen years, and because a good deal of that work is done while a child is asleep, this daily lost hour (which amounts to nearly one full night’s sleep each week) appears to have a significant impact on children.

On top of that, many experts agree that sleep deprivation at this age can mirror the symptoms associated with attention problems and hyperactivity.  And, sleep deprivation also lowers children’s immune systems, so they may be more prone to illness.

Conclusion:  Sleep needs to be a priority!
What Can We Do To Help Tweens Get More Sleep?

As children grow, it’s important to help them understand the value of getting good sleep and developing positive sleep habits. Here’s how parents can help.

  • Keep your tween’s room a sanctuary, so that it can be associated with comfort. Try to keep the bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping the light out, keeping it at a moderate temperature and ensuring peace and quiet.
  • Keep the bedroom media-free to avoid interference with the primary purpose of sleep!
  • Set an agreed upon bedtime (i.e., in bed by a certain time, lights out at a certain time) and try to limit drastic changes in bedtimes, even on weekends.
  • Reinforce a soothing bedtime routine, much like was done in the early stages, only evolved to include tween needs  (i.e., warm bath/shower, quiet reading, audio book, quiet music, even a favorite comfort object!).
  • Limit media involvement (i.e., television, computer, hand-held games, etc.) and any form of rough housing at least 30 minutes before bedtime to allow for a wind down period.
  • Eliminate caffeine after 2:00 pm; soft drinks and energy drinks offer stimulation that can inhibit sleep.
  • Review after-school activities if they’re pushing back your tween’s bedtime. Work together to achieve a reasonable solution.
  • Ensure that your preteen eats a healthy diet, cutting back on snacking and junk food, especially before bedtime. And, be aware of what your tween’s healthy weight should be; being overweight can affect your child’s sleep. Studies show that children who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, and that being overweight can make sleep problems more likely (around two thirds of children diagnosed with sleep apnea are overweight).
  • Encourage physical activity, but not too close to bedtime.
  • Teach time-management skills; the use of a planner can help your preteen to be prepared to better manage exceptionally active periods.
  • Speak with your tween’s doctor about sleep issues that seem persistent, since most sleep problems are easily treated.

Maybe Benjamin Franklin, in 1758, stated it succinctly and best when he said, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

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