It’s been a long and lazy summer. And even before the summer, schedules have gone awry with remote learning. The rigors of a schedule that require adherence to good sleep behavior have been relaxed. But now that school is gearing up again, parents need to make sure that their children get adequate sleep and get back on track getting back to bed.
Our Children consulted Dr. Prabhavathi Gummalla, a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep specialist at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, for her expert advice.
Our Children: How do we get our kids back on a good sleep schedule after the summer vacation?
Dr. Prabhavathi Gummalla: During the current Covid-19 pandemic with online schooling followed by vacation, parents report disruption in sleep schedule in school aged children. I recommend parents should help children to achieve a consistent and strict sleep schedule to the desired timing keeping in view the school schedule and the recommended duration of sleep needed for them.
For example, if the 7-year-old kid is sleeping at 10 p.m. and waking up 8 a.m. The desired duration of sleep for him/her is 9 to 11 hours. I advise to bring the scheduled sleep time forward from 10 p.m. by 15 to 30 minutes each day to the desired time of 8 to 9 p.m.. Simultaneously, wake up times be advanced by 15 to 30 minutes each day with aim to reach the desired time of 7 a.m. I advise them to adhere to same sleep schedule on all days of the week.
Our Children: Why is sleep so essential for children? What happens if they don’t get enough sleep?
Dr. Prabhavathi Gummalla: Sleep in children is essential for growth, immune function, and overall development of a child. It gives your body enough rest and prepares for the next day. It is needed for memory consolidation, relieving stress, and feeling refreshed the next day. In children who do not sleep adequately, there is higher incidence of anxiety, inattention, hyperactivity, irritability, rapid mood swings, poor executive function, cognitive dysfunction, depression and aggressive behavior. They may have poor growth.
Our Children: What are the recommended hours for children at different ages to get enough sleep?
Dr. Prabhavathi Gummalla: As per sleep foundation, the recommended duration of sleep for preschoolers (3 to 5 years) is 10 to 13 hours, while school-age kids (6- to 3 years) need 9 to 11 hours each night. Adolescent children (14 to 17 years) need 8-10 hours of nightly sleep. Some kids need more sleep and some kids less. It depends on whether they feel tired and sleepy during the day. In such cases, increasing their sleep schedule would be helpful in mitigating tiredness and stress levels.
Our Children: What sort of sleep disorders should a parent be on alert with their children?
Dr. Prabhavathi Gummalla: Parents should be vigilant for symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, circadian sleep phase disorders and narcolepsy. Symptoms that alert them to consult a sleep physician would include difficulty in falling asleep, difficulty in maintaining sleep, snoring, mouth breathing, pauses in breathing in sleep, trouble breathing in sleep, restless sleep, sleep talking, sleep walking, nightmares, night terrors, dream enactment behavior, teeth grinding, hard to wake up in the morning, fatigue, daytime sleepiness, restless legs, inattention, hyperactivity, poor academic grades, and bedwetting in older kids. Younger children may experience growth failure. If left untreated, kids develop insulin resistance, risk of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular complications such as strokes and heart attacks at younger age.
Our Children: Anything else you would like to add?
Dr. Prabhavathi Gummalla: A consistent sleep schedule and a good sleep hygiene helps in improving sleep. Having a warm bath prior to bedtime and physical activity prior to 4 to 5 p.m. promotes sleep. Having a right sleep environment that is noise-free, dark and cool helps in sleep onset. Limiting the use of electronics, particularly 1 to 2 hours prior to sleep is strongly recommended. Using bedroom-only for sleep helps retrain your brain to fall asleep. Going to sleep when you start feeling sleepy is recommended.