baby-1151351_960_720Sleep is critical to healthy physical and psychological development for children. According to JAMA Pediatrics, the long-term effects of lack of sleep in children include poor diet, sedentary behavior, obesity, reduced immunity, stunted growth, mental health issues (including depression and suicidal tendencies), and substance abuse. Children ages 6 to 13 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep, while teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep, yet studies show most children are getting an hour less of sleep each night than they did 30 years ago.

The reasons for this increased lack of sleep are varied. Extracurricular activities increasingly happen at night. Working parents who get home late may spend time with their children later into the evening. Heavier homework loads can keep children up later. Television, video games, and computers have been shown to affect sleep quality due in part to their well-lit screens. A JAMA Pediatrics article analyzing the results of 20 studies of children’s sleep and mobile devices noted that phones and tablets play a significant role in decreased sleep quality, in part because the real-time nature of social media tended to put the brain in a more wakeful state, making it harder to fall asleep after turning off the device.

Playing Catch Up on Sleep

You might think that your child can catch up on their lack of sleep over the weekend, but experts note that irregular sleep schedules affect children’s biological clocks, decrease sleep quality, and increase irritability. Sleeping in on the weekend can also make it more difficult to get a child up for school on Monday morning. Experts recommend that children keep similar sleep schedules during the week and over the weekend.

Have a Bedtime Routine

When you have a family trip to a big event like a wedding, you don’t just all hop in the car and go. You plan it out. You make sure that everyone is dressed appropriately, that you have all the accessories you need for the trip, and that you leave early enough to arrive on time. Getting a child into bed is a similar process. You can’t just stop what they are doing and chase them off to bed. They need time to transition from highly-engaging activities to a more soothing activity like a bath or a bedtime story before crawling into bed and going to sleep.

Be Your Child’s Sleep Advocate

Children often keep going until they collapse from exhaustion. Most of us remember having a toddler sound asleep on the floor in the middle of a pile of toys. Because of this, it is important for adults to educate our children on the importance of sleep. Great Schools recently had an article with seven ways to be your child’s sleep advocate:

  1. Talk to your child about sleep.
  2. Encourage your child to establish a sleep routine.
  3. Say no to late-night TV and computer use (and mobile devices, too).
  4. Check in with your child’s teacher.
  5. Consider the pros and cons of naps.
  6. Exercise plays a role in keeping a regular sleep schedule.
  7. Be a role model.

Sleep is an essential part of student success at school, healthy brain development, positive behavior, and a healthy lifestyle. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.