Sleep is one of the most important daily functions in regard to our general health and well-being. It’s like the body’s mental and physical recharge when the battery gets low from daily use. Like a reboot when you computer starts going haywire. But most Americans probably are not getting enough sleep each day.
The fact that babies sleep 2/3 of their entire day gives us an indication that sleep plays a role in normal growth and development. The amount of sleep we need in a full day starts at 16 to 17 hours/day in infancy, slowly declines to 11 to 12 hours at age five, and then stabilizes to about 8 to 9 hours per night by age eighteen.
An important fact to remember is that school age children in kindergarten through about fifth grade still need about ten hours of sleep each night. Dr. Gahan Fallone, a Brown Medical School psychologist, conducted a study to test the claim that children who do not get enough sleep each night will suffer academically.
In the study, a group of healthy 6 to 12 yrs students were randomly subjected to less sleep to see if their teachers could spot a difference in the children’s school performance. One group got enough sleep, the other group did not. After one week, the teachers were able to detect a difference in the children who had enough sleep vs. those who didn’t – without being told. Those who had less sleep showed noticeable academic and attention problems in the classroom.
Our brain’s sleep-wake cycle is essentially programmable. If you go to sleep at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, eventually your brain is wired to that pattern. However, external factors can interfere with the normal sleep cycle, for example caffeine intake, stress, illness and anything that awakens us in the night. Minimizing these factors as much as possible will help guarantee the best sleep.
The bottom line is that if we’re concerned about our child’s success, then it’s extremely important for us to ensure that they get enough sleep each night. To this end, Dr. Fallone provided some general advice for parents of school age children.
Remove all distractions from the child’s bedroom. That is, take out the television, the phone, and the video games if these are keeping your child from going to bed at a decent time. Eliminate the use of caffeine and sugar, particularly in the evening. Caffeine can be hidden in a variety of foods and beverages, the chief of which is soda.
Keep your child’s bedtime and wake-up times the same every day, regardless of the weekends. This will help maintain the normal sleep-wake cycle. Consider getting your child to bed on time as important as getting them to school on time.
Finally, use this general guideline to gauge how much sleep your child needs: 10 hours for kindergarten through second graders; 9 ¾ hours for third and fourth graders; and 9 hours for those in the fifth through high school grades.
The content in this column is for informational purposes only. Consult your physician for appropriate individual treatment. Dr. Reynolds practices Family Medicine in Chesterfield.