The amount of sleep a person needs varies across their lifetime with younger people generally sleeping more and seniors sleeping less. It may be easier to have early school aged children sleep 11-13 hours a day, but teenagers may be challenged to get the suggested 9-10 hours of sleep per day.
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” was Benjamin Franklin’s claim, and it made sense in the second half of the 18th century. However, today’s world is a much busier place and many people sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity.
Muscles need rest to recover, while the brain requires sleep to work properly. In the short term sleep deprivation can lead to daytime sleepiness, clumsiness, and decreased concentration, and in the long term to hallucinations, poor judgement, impulsiveness, and in males increased risk taking behavior.
Studies found high school students who on average get an extra hour of sleep each night achieve higher GPAs and SAT scores than their peers. But at night many of our kids turn to their electronic devices and lose sleep. These devices emit higher levels of blue spectrum light, which can suppress the body’s natural melatonin, a hormone associated with the body’s sleep cycle. Harvard researchers found blue light can throw off our sleep cycle for up to three hours following six hours of screen time.
If your kids must be on their devices for school, then consider having them wear orange-lens (blue-blocking) glasses two to three hours before bed. Another key is to wake up at the same time each day. Getting exposure to full spectrum light (daylight) helps reset the circadian rhythm or sleep cycle.
If your child is not falling asleep within a half hour after going to bed their mind may be very active. These are typically high achievers who need to learn techniques to quiet the mind. Mindfulness is one such approach; focusing on the present, without judging thoughts as good or bad. One exercise that can help is to repeatedly count slowly from 30 to 1 while trying to hear and see each number in your mind.
Which approach to sleep troubles is right for your child depends on the source of the problem. You might find traditional Chinese medicine such as acupuncture and herbs can help. My grandmother’s solution was a glass of warm milk with her secret ingredient (I think it was a little brown sugar), and that always worked for me.