Why Your Kids Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep, And What You Can Do

We all know kids need sleep to focus and learn, but more than half of children in Canada and the US are sleep deprived. That’s right, it’s not just your kids who can’t or won’t sleep.

Research shows:

“60–70% of Canadian students are often very sleepy during their morning classes. School-aged children are experiencing delayed bedtimes and nearly half of Canadian teens reported at least occasional problems falling or staying asleep.” (Douglas Institute)

In the US, the stats are very similar:

“According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need at least nine and a half hours of sleep every night. However…less than half of American children get at least nine hours of sleep each night, and 58 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds regularly sleep fewer than seven hours each night.” (Jessica Lahey)

It’s incredibly frustrating because, from a parent’s’ perspective, there is no reason in the world for our kids to go without enough rest.

When we go without sleep, it’s for good reason: our lives are too busy – there’s just not enough time in a parent’s day. But kids – well, kids can’t make the same claims, can they?

Actually…if your kids aren’t running ragged, they’re probably in the minority.

WHY KIDS AREN’T GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP

Today’s kids don’t unwind at the creek after school. Their weekdays and weekends are jam-packed with structured sports and intense homework.

We still think of childhood as easy street, but times have changed.

And it’s not just that busy parents have spawned busy kids. There’s also the constant connectivity, and the resultant FOMO. That’s right, Fear Of Missing Out: the modern condition that’s so pervasive, the acronym is a regular feature of slang.

Remember worrying that other kids might be hanging out at the park without you? That was real, but it was also limited. After a certain time – maybe sunset – you knew there wasn’t much to miss.

Today, FOMO never ends. There’s a constant online party, and if you aren’t checking in at all hours, you might miss something totally huge.

Before technology put our social lives at our fingertips, parents could cut off the fun at a decent hour. Now, we need to put a curfew on IT just to keep kids from socializing themselves into a state of exhaustion.

And that curfew is so very necessary.

Research has emerged showing that kids between the ages of 9 and 15 may be particularly sensitive to exposure to light in the evening – with a special focus on the light from electronic devices.

According to a study out of Brown University, “The more evening light exposure kids in this age group racked up, the lower their levels of the sleep hormone melatonin were — and the less rest they were able to score, according to the study, published on August 26 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.” (Esther Crain)

In other words, screen time was proven to suppress natural cues to sleep. Senior study author Mary Carskadon of Brown University explains that this suppression actually shifts kids’ body clocks to favour a later bedtime, and a later morning.

WHY IT MATTERS

There’s no give when it comes to school start times, so what we get are young kids with an accumulated sleep deficit. And it’s a serious issue.

“Chronic sleep loss contributes to higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and obesity. Long-term deprivation has also been shown to be a factor in lower test scores, decreased attention span, tardiness, concentration, and overall academic achievement.” (Esther Crain)

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?

The study author, Carskadon, has this advice for parents “While all kids should be encouraged to shut off their devices before bedtime, it’s especially critical for those in their middle school and early high school years, who are biologically more vulnerable to the effects of light on melatonin.” (Esther Crain)

Practically speaking, this means turning off phones, tablets, computers and TVs at least 30 minutes before bedtime – and remember, bedtime should be 9.5 hours before your child needs to get up. Just to give a healthy margin, why not make it ten hours?

In the morning, throw open the curtains and turn on the bright lights. Those melatonin-suppressing lights will cue energy and alertness. Never mind their drowsy complaints.

NUTRITION FOR BETTER SLEEP

We don’t recommend melatonin supplements for children without the express advice of a medical practitioner. Children naturally produce more melatonin than adults, given enough dark.

What we do recommend for kids is magnesium, to regulate melantonin.

“Melatonin pathway production is disturbed without sufficient magnesium,” explains Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND and bestselling author of The Magnesium Miracle (Kindle version page 284).

Magnesium also relaxes the muscles and nerves. It helps kids wind down and settle in for a truly restful sleep – sleep that preps their brains for learning, their emotions for coping, and their bodies for the hard work of growing up.

Find out more about why children aren’t getting enough magnesium in our post on kids and stress, here.

Sources

Jessica Lahey, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/surprise-students-arent-getting-enough-sleep/379020/

Douglas Institute, https://www.douglas.qc.ca/info/sleep-and-children-impact-of-lack-of-sleep-on-daily-life

Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, https://press.endocrine.org/doi/pdf/10.1210/jc.2015-2775

Esther Crain, Yahoo! Parenting, https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/why-young-teens-should-never-go-to-bed-with-their-127727850297.html?nf=1

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND. The Magnesium Miracle (Revised and Updated). Kindle version.

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