What’s keeping your kids up at night? Many things, says a Mercy Kids doctor, but there is often one thing in common: technology. That can be problematic, especially when Daylight Saving Time snatches an extra hour of potential sleep time.
“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.”
- Start early. Dr. White recommends parents slowly make the transition two weeks before the start of school. If you find yourself in a last-minute crunch, she says children and teenagers adapt more easily to a new or changing sleep routine than adults.
- Remove the electronics. Whether it’s texting a friend or binge-watching a children’s show on Netflix, Dr. White says the boundaries between bedtime and playtime have never been blurrier. She recommends removing technology altogether – laptops, TV’s, tablets and cell phones – at least one hour before bedtime.
- Remember their needs. Children and teens need more sleep than adults and can range anywhere from eight to 12 hours per night.
- Keep the same schedule. Allowing your child to sleep in on the weekend could cause more harm than good. Dr. White says it’s important for kids and parents to avoid anything that could change their circadian rhythm, or “sleep clock.” Yes, that includes naps.
“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.