We all know sleep is crucial to our physical and mental health. As adults we rarely get the good, quality sleep that most experts say we need. What about our kids? If we’re not sleeping well and setting a good example, chances are our kids aren’t getting the sleep they need either–and this lack of sleep is wreaking havoc on them physically and emotionally.
We’ve all experienced our children when they haven’t had enough sleep. They’re tired, irritable, emotional, and uncooperative. They’re not focused, lack clarity in decision making and have brain fog. Not a great combination when they’re expected to be learning and growing into productive adults. Since their brains are still developing, it’s important to make sure kids are getting enough sleep to ward off problems later on.
A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that lack of sleep is altering our children’s emotional health. In the study by Candice Alfano at the University of Houston, 53 children aged 7-11 were studied. The children completed an emotional assessment twice a week—once after a full night’s sleep and once after a night of restricted sleep. After analyzing the results, the researchers found that there were significant changes in the way the children were able to regulate and express their emotions when their sleep was restricted.
says, “Somewhat to our surprise, the most significant alterations were found in response to positive rather than negative stimuli.” The implications of these findings show that poor sleep habits might spill over into children’s social and emotional lives. Being able to express positive emotions is essential for children’s development and healthy relationships. These findings may show the reason children who sleep less have more problems with developing healthy peer friendships and with concentration at school and home. The study also found the results were exaggerated in children who already had social-emotional regulation issues and shows a need for that population in particular to get good quality sleep on a consistent basis.
Another study at the University of Reading found that during a study of 4790 teenagers, those who already experienced anxiety and depression symptoms got less quality sleep than those who did not, which exacerbated their issues—and that the mental health issues subsequently carried over to later in life. Dr. Orchard, from the University of Reading who was a researcher on the study said, “This latest research is another piece of evidence to show that there is a significant link between sleep and mental health for teenagers.”
The most noticeable result from the study showed that the difference in sleep was sometimes a mere 30 minutes a night between those who had mental health issues and those who did not and shows that we need to pay more attention to the quality and quantity of sleep our kids are getting to prevent emotional and health issues later on. Not an easy task when confronted with heavy homework loads and increased use of electronics keeping our kids up later and later every night.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Teens who have a diagnosis of depression get an average of 7.25 hours of sleep at night, which translates to three and a half hours less sleep each week. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s enough for our kids’ mental health to suffer. In fact, sleep has become so important for our kids and their mental well being that the Department of Education is including information regarding the importance of sleep for kids in school starting in September of 2020 in their statutory guidance.
So, what can we do to ensure our kids are getting the recommended amounts of good quality sleep? There are several steps you can take.
Sleep is essential to all of us, but especially important for children and teens to make sure their minds develop in a healthy way. Kids who get enough sleep do better in school, have better memories, and stronger mental health than those who don’t, so make sure your kids are getting enough great quality sleep each and every night.
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