Good quality, restorative sleep is essential for optimal health and well-being. Insufficient sleep can cause problems with irritability, decreased daytime alertness and poor academic performance, and can contribute to depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues. Most parents know that sleep is important at all ages, yet in recent years I hear more patients tell me that they often do not sleep well.
Our society has become increasingly dependent on electronics to function in our daily lives. Most parents and children use computers at work and school, and at home we are texting on our smart phones or keeping up with friends on social media. Our children often study and complete assignments online, but recently, more evidence indicates that an increase in sleep problems may be related to these electronic devices. Light receptors in the retina transmit messages to the brain, and the brain responds with an increase in alertness. The particular type of light associated with i-pads, computers, smart phones, video games, e-readers, and other electronic devices with a lighted screen, seems to be particularly stimulating to the "awake" centers in our brains. Some people are more susceptible to this than others.
Making it a habit to turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime can be of great benefit in improving sleep. Some children who are very sensitive may require longer than this, even several hours. Encourage your child to complete their online schoolwork first, so they can read (actual books, not e-readers) and do other non-computer based assignments later in the evenings. Parents should always make sure that their children's access to social media is adequately monitored and developmentally appropriate, but it is also important that electronics not be routinely used late in the evenings and into the night-time hours. Several families have told me that they have instituted a "turn-off, turn-in" policy and at an agreed upon time, their children are to turn their devices off and leave them in a specific location (not in their bedroom, where they may be tempted)
For children that struggle with sleep issues, having a regular bedtime routine can help them "wind down." Depending on the age of the child, bath or shower, getting schoolwork and lunches ready, story-time or reading a book, listening to soothing music or guided relaxation/meditation may be calming and beneficial. Avoid caffeinated beverages and concentrated sweets, especially late in the day. Most of my patients will tell me that they sleep better and feel better when they are involved in sports or other regular exercise. Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids are not recommended for most children, and should be used only after consulting with your childs' pediatrician.
Some older children and teens tend to fall into bad sleep habits over the summer, staying up late and sleeping in. They then struggle with getting up early for school. Although it can be difficult, try to maintain a consistent bedtime and avoid napping after school, then staying up late again at night. It may take some time to get back into a good routine. If you suspect that a medical issue such as asthma or sleep apnea might be the cause of your child's sleep problem, please call our office to set up a consult appointment to discuss this with us. If you are concerned that your child is suffering from a mental health issue such as depression or a significant anxiety disorder, or if you suspect a substance abuse issue please call for a referral to a qualified mental health provider.