What’s keeping your kids up at night? Many things, says a Mercy Kids doctor, but there is often one thing in common: technology.
“TVs, DVDs cell phones, tablets and laptops – electronics are now commonplace in the bedroom, and they shouldn’t be,” said Dr. Matthew Lundien, medical director of Mercy Clinic Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Disorders. “Many of the kids I see in my clinic don’t have a medical condition per se; instead, they are suffering from a socially-induced sleep deprivation problem.”
In other words, whether it’s texting a friend or binge-watching a children’s show on Netflix, the boundaries between bedtime and playtime have never been blurrier. The more emotionally connected kids are to the technology, the less time they will spend getting quality sleep.
“It’s a rampant problem in America right now,” Dr. Lundien said. “Adults are able to screen those distractions out, but kids can’t. So, parents have to be the ones to really take charge.”
Step one is to identify just how sleep deprived your child really is. Dr. Lundien cites the following sleep chart from “A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep.”
AGE* Total Sleep time /24 hours
Toddlers (1-3 years) 11-13 hours (includes naps)
Preschool (3-5 yrs) 9-10 hrs (includes naps)
School age (6-12) 9-10 hrs
Adolescents (12-18) 9-9.25 hrs
“The next step would be setting rules, limits and boundaries,” Dr. Lundien said. “Kids learn through consistent parental instruction. Tell your kids that cell phones and other electronics aren’t allowed in the bedroom. I recommend parents unplug and lock the devices up with a key if necessary. Or, impose a mandatory battery charging time overnight in an area separated from the child.”
The goal is to keep everyone – and every device – from draining.
“Sadly, this is a real struggle for families and many aren’t successful,” Dr. Lundien added. “We live in a society where it is common for people to look for a chemical solution (i.e. medicine) for problems, and parents are even overusing drugs like melatonin to help kids sleep – but when you put something in a young, developing body and brain, it’s hard to predict the long-term side effects.”
Dr. Lundien points to a recent statement by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on how to avoid using sleeping pills to deal with insomnia.
“With the simple flip of a switch, kids can be happier, smarter and more active,” Dr. Lundien said. “Good sleep hygiene and healthy sleep won’t just benefit kids – it will benefit the whole family.”
*Dr. Lundien didn’t include neonatal and infant sleep times since they are so remarkably different from toddlers and older children.