Turn off lights and screens for better sleep (and happier parents!)

Signs of sleep deprivation and why you need to make sleep a priority

The crucial role of sleep for good health and for obesity prevention has not yet been included in public health messages to the same extent as the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and being physically active. Unfortunately, many parents and children do not obtain adequate amounts of sleep.

Why prioritize sleep?
During sleep, our bodies repair, improve and maintain physical health. Without adequate sleep, we needlessly struggle with cognition, learning, memory and attention. These struggles may lead to losses in performance, productivity, quality of life, healthy eating, regular exercise, stress management and school performance. They may also lead to increases in accident risk, mortality and depression. Studies have shown a link between sleep deprivation and risk of obesity in children and adults. Symptoms that look like attention deficit disorder may actually be sleep deprivation.

Signs of sleep deprivation
On average, children 6-12 years old need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night, and adults need seven to eight hours. Individual needs may vary. How do you know if you and your children are getting enough sleep? Some of the following are signs of possible sleep deprivation:

  • Needing an alarm clock to wake up
  • Having a hard time getting out of bed
  • Struggling with concentrating or paying attention
  • Struggling with school or work
  • Feeling grumpy, moody or irritable
  • Easily getting frustrated or upset
  • Getting into trouble
  • Feeling tired
  • Falling asleep while watching television, in class, or at work

These signs do not mean that you are definitely sleep deprived, however it is a possibility.

Optimal sleep hygiene for developing consistent bed and wake times
What you and your children do during the day can help everyone sleep better at night. Starting in the morning, try to maintain the same wake time seven days per week. Get some light in the morning as well to alert your brain. Engage in physical activity during the day—ideally at least an hour a day for children and ½ hour per day for adults. In the late afternoon and evening, avoid caffeine. Create a restful bedroom environment. Plan what time you will have a “lights out” policy for each member of the family. Plan a consistent bedtime routine with calming activities like reading. Keep electronic media devices (television, mobile phones, video games, computers, handheld devices) away from the bed and ideally out of the bedroom.

Manage electronic media devices
Cranky kids? Frazzled parents? Make lights out time truly lights out, including turning off televisions, mobile phones, video games, computers, and any other backlit device. Try parking your iDevices at the door at least a half-hour before bedtime. Lighted devices at night, which to the body is analogous to morning sunshine, will confuse the body’s signals. If your child has a mobile phone, consider activating blackout times to avoid the temptations of delayed bedtimes or interrupted sleep from incoming text messages.

Anna M. Adachi-Mejia, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Glen P. Greenough, MD is the Program Director of the Fellowship in Sleep Medicine at Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center. He is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

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