PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Parents, Let Your Children Sleep

Posted on Nov 6, 2013

boysleepingatdesk.blogChildren overall are more sleep deprived than ever before. Not only do kids go to bed as late as 10 p.m., but they also have inconsistent bedtimes, which can lead to hyperactivity and trouble with social and emotional behavior. As adults, we feel fatigue when deprived of sleep. But studies show that sleep deprived children typically exhibit hyperactivity and quick mood swings.

Fortunately, behavior improves significantly once children have a consistent bedtime that gives them adequate sleep. Why do so many educated parents unknowingly deprive their children of something so basic and crucial to good development? Here are five main reasons, and suggestions for solutions from Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s internal medicine specialist Ronesh Sinha, M.D.

  • Overscheduling: Many parents fill a child’s days with multiple activities and academic enrichment programs in an effort to boost brain power. If this leads to consistently later bedtimes, then this effort is backfiring. No class or activity can come close to the brain-enhancing effects of sufficient sleep. Sleep actually lets your child absorb and retain more information thanks to improved attention in the classroom. To help, organize your child’s schedule in a way that ensures a regular bedtime.
  • Family pressure: Often children are kept up to greet a parent arriving home late from work. I completely understand a parent’s desire to see their child after a long, hard workday. But if this happens often, you may be sacrificing your child’s physical, emotional and intellectual development.
  • Social pressure: Occasional late-night social events may not be disruptive. However, if your child is being kept up beyond a normal bedtime every weekend this can be a problem. Significant bedtime deviations disrupt your child’s sleep rhythm, causing effects similar to jet lag. A common pattern is a late Friday and/or Saturday bedtime followed by an earlier Sunday school night bedtime. Try to keep bedtimes as consistent as you can through weekends, holidays and summer vacations.
  • Overstimulation: Many kids are hyperactive before bedtime. Often this is due to excessive stimulation from evening screen time, social activities or sugar. You need to let your child wind down so he or she can fall asleep more easily. Initiate a calm routine like a warm bath or shower followed by some reading time. Turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime. And don’t feed your child sugary snacks before bed.
  • Cultural patterns: It’s not uncommon for young Indian or Asian children to go to bed late. In fact, an international study presented at the SLEEP 2008 conference found that children from India and other Asian countries had significantly later bedtimes and shorter total sleep times than children from other countries. If you come from a culture that accepts late, irregular bedtimes, break out of the norm. Prioritize your child’s sleep.

Children’s sleep needs vary based on age. Elementary and middle school-age kids need approximately 11 hours of sleep, while teens require at least nine hours of shuteye. Discuss your child’s sleep needs with your pediatrician. Sleep confers tremendous benefits on our minds and bodies. Make it a priority not just for your kids, but for the entire family.


Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D.

Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D.

This blog post is contributed by Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D., Palo Alto Medical Foundation Internal Medicine. Dr. Sinha works closely with the South Asian community to help reduce heart disease and diabetes risk, and provides corporate health lectures to promote wellness in the workplace. You can follow him on Twitter at @roneshsinha.