Don't let longer hours rob kids of sleep

Thursday, March 18, 2010

If the family seems a little more grumpy than usual these days, there may be a good reason.

Yes, we all lost an hour of sleep, thanks to Sunday's return to daylight saving time, but that only exacerbates a problem that results from the changing season.

Yes, we enjoy the long afternoons that result from changing the clocks -- especially on unseasonably warm days like today -- but it's tempting to burn the candle at both ends.

Kids especially have trouble winding down in time to go to bed early enough to squeeze in enough hours of sleep before it's time to get up for school.

How much sleep is enough?

According to Brett Kuhn, a psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist at Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, a 2-year-old requires about 121⁄2 hours of sleep, nighttime and naps combined. Ten-year-olds should get 10 hours of sleep, while adolescents need about 91⁄4 hours.

"The next two months can be considered a 'high risk' period when it comes to sleep deprivation for our children," said Dr. Kuhn, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics and psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

He calls the next two months -- through the end of the school year -- a "challenging time" for parents and says it can be difficult to make sure our kids are getting enough sleep.

"We make sure our children are vaccinated, and that they have good nutrition and exercise, but we tend to forget about sleep as a significant factor in growth and development. We need to make sleep a priority," he reminds families.

Chronic sleep deprivation can affect mood and lead to a lack of focus. It can also weaken the immune system's ability to fight off illness. Behavioral problems can become worse in children already prone to having emotional outbursts or other issues.

"The large majority of teenagers need a little more than nine hours of sleep per night, but research suggests they are getting much less -- seven to seven and a-quarter hours of sleep on school nights," says Dr. Kuhn.

While things like television, video games and computers can interfere with or delay sleep, he points out that a consistent wake up time, even on weekends, can be helpful when it comes to managing better sleep routines.

"It is OK to sleep in some on the weekends, but we want to try to maintain a reasonable wake up time. This is how we help our bodies adjust to schedule changes and stay in sync," he explains. "It is OK to have a brief nap later in the day. This is better than excessive oversleeping."

Check with your healthcare provider if your child is experiencing any of the problems listed above. If more help is needed, Children's Hospital & Medical Center offers a Sleep Disorders Center specifically focused on children and adolescents with serious sleep issues. For more information visit www.ChildrensOmaha.org and search for "Sleep Center."

Of course, plenty of sleep is just as important for adults and older people as well.

So let's take advantage of the longer days, get outside and enjoy the opportunities for fresh air and exercise that the changing weather offer.

But let's be sure to wind down in time to get a good night's sleep, refreshed and ready to go the next day.

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