A lesser-known health observance in mid-March revolves around a “task” that affects everyone: sleeping—also known as my favorite hobby. March 10-16, 2019, is designated to bring awareness to sleep disorders and complications, as well as provide strategies for achieving optimal sleep. Since such a large percentage of our lives is devoted to catching Zzz’s, it is shocking to know how many school-aged children and teens are not getting adequate amounts of sleep, especially knowing the mental, physical, and emotional benefits that healthy sleep habits support.
Of course, as we adults probably remember, early bedtimes are no fun. The same opposition to bedtime that I recall as a kid applies to many children today. When bedtime looms, a child’s mood can shift from unenthusiastic to hostile and defiant in a matter of seconds. Most kids would definitely prefer to play Fortnite, watch hockey as it goes into overtime, or participate in the group chat for hours on their phones as opposed to getting a few extra hours of sleep. However, the issues attributed to a lack of sleep span much further than fatigue and moodiness—and it is important that kids know this.
- When dealing with opposition to bedtime, especially with young children, parents can use science to push their cause. Talk to kids and teens about how the brain and body both need sleep in order to function properly. Sleep allows the brain to better remember things that we have learned—it acts almost like an overnight solidifier of knowledge. Sleep also boosts concentration so that we can focus properly during our waking hours. Sleep also keeps our thinking sharp, allowing us to process information quickly, make prompt decisions, effectively problem-solve, and muster creativity.
- In addition to the science behind sleep’s effect on the brain, children should be encouraged to sleep because of the physical impact that sleep has on one’s body. Children, especially growing teens and athletes, require sleep to help repair and build muscles. Sleep also helps bones to grow stronger. Sleep can even help the body repair an injury more swiftly! This is why doctors recommend a lot of sleep when we get sick—sleep acts as a “reset” button for the body to help fight off illnesses. Without adequate sleep, our immune systems do not work properly.
- Besides the physical and cognitive impacts, parents can shed a more positive light on sleep by discussing how it affects our motivation and effort. Young children may not want to admit it, but the less sleep they get, the more sluggish they will feel the following day. Parents can use the “gas tank” analogy to encourage children to fill up their sleep tanks each night with a certain amount of hours. Just like a car needs gas to run properly, living things need sleep to recharge us for all of the activities we will do the following day. Without that “gas” (sleep), we will eventually stall out, breakdown, or slow to a sudden stop.
- Talk about how light, especially blue light that is often emitted from smartphones, computer screens, and tablets, works to suppress the production of melatonin—the sleep chemical that lets our body know it is time to rest. The worst thing that children and teens can do right before bed is spend time in front of their screens. The light from their screens essentially sends the message that, “It’s light out, time to get up and go!” Encourage children and teens to set the phones and tablets down at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This allows the body time to adjust to the dark and wind-down. Conversely, brighter lights in the morning help the body to wake up more quickly. If teens are struggling to wake up, pull up the shades, let in the sun, and allow them to greet the light—whether they want to or not.