How Important is Sleep for Your Child?

July 10, 2015 Updated: June 23, 2016

One of the most surprising things that I have experienced about living in Hong Kong is how late children get to bed at night. The newspapers often do articles about the seriousness of sleep deprivation. Apparently it is a chronic and pressing problem. The reasons are partly due, say many parents, to the amount of homework given, to the number of tutoring classes the students attend outside of school, and to the late arrival times of the parents from their work places at night.

I am sharing with you some information I have gleaned from the experts on the subject.

How much sleep does my child need?
It depends on the age and other personal characteristics. Most infants and toddlers need 12 to 14 hours of sleep a day. This gradually decreases as they give up their daily nap and sleep progressively fewer hours at night. The chart included here offers general guide lines. Keep in mind, though that these are only averages and some children might need more and some less than others their age.

261.How Children Learn Best

How can I tell if my child is sleep deprived?

A cranky disposition, a low frustration point, a tendency to throw tantrums, and hyperactivity can all signal that your child isn’t getting enough sleep. With some kids, though, the behavioural signs are more subtle. If your child seems even-tempered, but has trouble waking every morning, sleeps in whenever she has the chance, or falls asleep in the afternoon, she probably needs more z’s.

Some kids fall asleep every time they get in the car or whenever they sit down to watch TV. Others can’t even wait for an appropriate venue. In a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 15 per cent of kids were reported falling asleep at school. They often fall asleep during tutorings.

My child seems to get enough sleep, but has trouble getting up in the morning. Why?

The sleep chart offers only general guidelines. If your 9-year-old sleeps 10 hours at night, but still hates to rise and shine, maybe she needs closer to 11 hours. Or maybe she gets the right quantity, but the quality of her sleep isn’t up to par.

One possible cause is sleep apnea, which affects 2 per cent of children. This is a serious sleep disorder that can cause your child’s upper airway passages to become blocked repeatedly during the night making it difficult for her to breathe. You might hear snoring or brief periods of quiet interspersed with snoring. Each time the airway is blocked, she wakes enough to shift position, interrupting her sleep. If you think your child might suffer from sleep apnea, talk to her pediatrician.

How does sleep deprivation affect my child?
In addition to the behavioural changes noted above, your youngster’s grades may be affected. Some studies suggest that kids who get poor grades sleep less than those who get A’s and B’s. At the very least, your child’s teacher might label her as lazy or a slow learner if she’s half asleep during class.

How can I get my night owl to bed earlier?

If your child doesn’t already have a bedtime routine, establish one. Choose a time close to the hour that she goes to sleep now. Bedtime should be relaxed, a way for the body to slow down and prepare to sleep. A bath, a story, some quiet time with you… these will all become signals for her that the day has ended. Once you have the routine down, move it up a few minutes every evening until she is going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking easily in the morning.

An adolescent is likely to give you more grief about bedtime. At this stage, a child’s life is more complex, with more demands on her time: homework, a social life, after-school activities, perhaps a part-time job. She also wants to exert her independence and bedtime is an area where she can do that. What’s more, some sleep researchers believe that a teen’s sleep schedule shifts later naturally, so there may be a biological reason for staying up late.

Unfortunately, teenagers still have to get up for school. While you can’t change her biological tendencies, you can help her get some sleep. If she’s not tired at night, insist that she still get ready for bed at a regular time. Suggest that she read a book rather than chat online or watch TV. Wake her at the same time every morning, even on Saturdays and Sundays, so that she’s more likely to be sleepy at night. Also, make sure your child avoids caffeine late in the day, since it can interfere with sleep.

If my child doesn’t get enough sleep during the week, can she catch up on the weekend?
Research shows that many adolescents are racking up a 2-hour deficit every weeknight. That means 10 extra hours of sleep are needed by each weekend, which leaves very little time for other activities. Even if your child can catch up by sleeping in, it’s not a good idea. If she sleeps late on Saturday and Sunday, she’s probably not going to be tired Sunday evening, so she’ll start that week off on the wrong foot.

There is NEVER a choice about what time to go to bed. As Barbara Coloroso, behaviour expert says, there is only a choice of whether to wear your red pajamas or the blue pajamas—the important thing is getting a proper sleep.

The bottom line as parents, your child just cannot learn effectively if he or she is tired and does not get a enough sleep!

Pat Kozyra is the author of “Tips and Tidbits For Parents and Teachers—celebrating 50 years in the classroom and sharing what I have learned”. It is available at Amazon.com books, Barnes and Noble.com, bumps to babes stores in Hong Kong, Swindon Books, Kelly and Walsh (Pacific Place) and Beachside Bookstore in Stanley. You are welcomed to ask advice on a teaching or parenting issue by writing to patkozy@hotmail.com.

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