Sleep Disorders

01 September 2011

Kids need sleep to excel in school

Although many kids stay up late on long summer days, once school starts in the fall they should return to their normal sleep routines, according to experts.

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Although many kids stay up late during school holidays, once school starts in the fall they should return to their normal sleep routines, according to experts at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Pointing out that adequate sleep is essential to a child's academic success and overall well-being, the researchers said that three- to five-year-olds need at 11 to 13 hours of shut-eye per night. Five to 12-year-olds need at least 10 or 11 hours a night.

"From memory to judgement, attention span, emotional stability and even immunity, sleep deprivation negatively affects school-age children," Dr Kristin Avis, UAB assistant professor of paediatrics and a sleep specialist, said.

"As for adolescents, it's a common myth that they need less sleep, and can handle only seven or eight hours, but they actually need nine hours of sleep," Avis said. Adolescents are typically the most sleep-deprived population in school, she added.

Putting kids to sleep

A poll by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that 60% of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired during the day. Moreover, 15% admitted to falling asleep at school.

Anticipating the first day of school, experts say children should start going to bed earlier to avoid these feelings of daytime sleepiness and ensure a smooth transition back to the classroom.

"About a week ahead of school starting, begin to back up their bed-time and wake-up times. This incremental change may start off rough, but it will get easier and ensure they are not miserable on their first day at school," Dr. Stephenie Wallace, a UAB assistant professor of paediatrics, explained.

Since missed hours of sleep can add up and have detrimental effects on children, UAB experts recommend that parents remove electronic devices from their child's room, making it as calm and peaceful as possible.

"On average, there are three to four electronic gadgets in a kid's room," said Avis. "It's been shown that even sleeping with a television on deprives them of 20 minutes of sleep per night, which may not sound like a lot, but adds up over a week's time."

The UAB experts noted they are conducting additional research on how poor sleep affects children, as well as how sleep deprivation among kids is linked to safety issues.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation provides more information on children and sleep.

SOURCE: University of Alabama at Birmingham, news release, Aug. 9, 2011.


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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