Sweet dreams for your children article UofL Health in Louisville KY

First you notice the yawns, then the moody behavior. You wonder if it’s bedtime yet. Are you and your family getting the proper amount of sleep each night?

According to Dr. Egambaram Senthilvel, a pediatric sleep specialist with the University of Louisville Physicians, insufficient sleep is a problem for kids throughout the year.

He said an inadequate amount of sleep can affect academic performance and mood. In teens, a lack of sleep can affect decision-making and driving ability. Lack of sleep can even be harmful to a child’s health.

“Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to mental illness, learning and attention problems, driving accidents, weight gain, even heart disease,” Dr. Senthilvel said.

How much sleep does your child need each night? Dr. Senthilvel said that school-aged children (6-12) need 9-10 hours of sleep nightly. Adolescents need less sleep than children—seven to nine hours—but when they sleep can make a big difference.

“Nearly 30 percent of high school students report falling asleep in school at least once a week,” he said. “School starts early in the morning but adolescents biologically aren’t sleepy until later at night.”

The use of electronics can also add to your child’s inability to sleep. A recent study out of Spain found that pre-school and school-aged children who spend more time watching TV get less sleep.

Dr. Senthilvel said electronic devices, like television or cell phones, are a big problem also.

“In my practice, electronic devices are an even bigger problem than TV for kids, especially for teenagers,” Dr. Senthilvel explained. “I see patients weekly whose sleep problems are associated with too much screen time.”

According to Dr. Senthilvel, prolonged exposure to lights from electronic devices and television can affect melatonin release. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.

“I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that kids under 2 years avoid exposure to any media and that older children be limited to one-two hours of screen time a day,” Dr. Senthilvel said.

What can you do to help your child sleep?

Good sleep hygiene practice promotes healthy sleep and prevents sleep problems. 

  • Set a regular sleep schedule to allow your child to have sufficient sleep.
  • Keep a routine sleep schedule during entire week (vary by only one hour on weekends).
  • Avoid any electronics within an hour of bedtime or after going to bed.
  • Limit caffeine six hours before bed.
  • Avoid scheduled nap during daytime.
  • Regular exercise and exposure to sunlight can help to have healthy sleep.

Want to learn more? Visit UofL Physicians Pediatric Specialists.

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Melody Kitchen

Melody Kitchen is the director of communications at UofL Health. She has more than 15 years of health care marketing experience. Melody believes that empowering people with health care knowledge enables them to be better advocates for their own health care. Melody received her bachelor's and master's from Texas Tech University.

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