While a small percentage of children have disrupted sleep because of sleep apnea, a far greater percentage are exhausted, irritable, and distracted throughout the day because of poor sleep habits. Dr. Dennis Rosen, associate medical director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, blames the digital age. “It’s always tempting to send one more text or check one more thing on Facebook but that distracts kids from relaxing and keeps them from going to sleep.” Compounding the problem: teens’ growing reliance on caffeinated energy drinks and Starbucks, which often keeps them wired into the wee hours.
Here are some rules Rosen sets for his own children to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep.
No bright light for two hours before bedtime. “It has a direct effect on the body’s internal clock,” explained Rosen, “and tends to push back falling asleep time” by fooling the body into thinking it’s still daytime. Blue light backgrounds on computer screens tend to pose the biggest problem, he added.
Disengage from electronic media at least hour before bedtime. Rosen shuts off the wireless router in his house so his kids can’t use the Internet after a certain time each night. Parents can also confiscate smartphones so they’ll be fully charged in the morning (if they need an excuse).
Keep temperatures moderate and pets out of bed. Rosen recommends keeping the thermostat set at 65 to 74 degrees F. “Pets also shouldn’t be jumping in and out bed when a child is trying to sleep.”
Ban caffeinated beverages after noon. Drinking these later in the day can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep at night.
Set a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. Kids should wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, which is especially tough for sleep-deprived high schoolers who want to sleep in on Saturday. At the very least, get them back on schedule on Sunday.
Get bright light in the morning. A dose of sunlight helps reduce morning drowsiness and improve sleep at night, said Rosen. No, morning cartoons are not bright enough to shut off sleep-inducing hormones. Getting them to the bus stop a few minutes early is a better idea.