How to help your child sleep better

One of the keys to keeping your child happy and healthy is making sure they get enough sleep on a regular basis, a new study has found.

That’s no surprise to the parents, is it? But it turns out even 39 minutes can make a difference, as the results showed.

In the study, published Wednesday in the JAMA Network Open, researchers observed 100 children aged 8 to 12 living in New Zealand. The children alternated between a week going to bed an hour earlier and an hour later – with a week at normal time between the two.

The children and their parents then used a questionnaire to assess their sleep disorders and impairments over the course of the day. The researchers also asked the children about their health-related quality of life.

The children who took part in the study regularly slept between eight and 11 hours a night and were considered to be generally healthy, the study found.

After a week of 39 minutes less sleep per night, the children reported lower overall well-being and a lower ability to do at school, the study said.

“We all know that a good night’s sleep (sleep) makes us feel better, but there’s very little data using experimental designs that actually show how large the effects might be,” said study lead author Rachael Taylor, in an email. “This type of intervention data is the only way we can ‘prove’ that changing one behavior actually has an impact on another.”

The study covered many aspects of well-being, including an assessment of how the children felt physically and psychologically in their relationships with parents and peers and how they felt at school, said Taylor, research professor of medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand .

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The assessment included questions about whether the children felt able to pay attention at school, felt physically fit, and whether they had energy to have fun and spend time with their friends.

Not all of the children were able to restrict their sleep during the full hour in the study, Taylor said. But whatever they reduced caused a decline in their well-being, she said. And the effects were greater when study participants lost half an hour or more of sleep, she added.

“We haven’t seen this type of study that looks at health-related quality of life or quality of life outcomes, which we know are really important because it’s often something that happens with families, teachers, public health officials can really resonate. when we think about the importance of promoting healthy sleep,” said Ariel Williamson, pediatric sleep specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Williamson, who is also an assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, was not involved in the research.

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The children in the study were monitored from July 4 to September 1, 2022, and there are still questions about the longer-term effects, Taylor said.

“We don’t know what the long-term effects might be — maybe kids will adapt, maybe not, and their well-being will deteriorate even more,” Taylor said in an email.

Meanwhile, she advised families “not to underestimate the value of sleep and to prioritize sleep as much as possible.”

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It might be easy to shake off a little lost sleep, but less quality sleep could result in eating more treats, declining school performance and deteriorating mental health, Taylor added.

And while getting healthy, adequate sleep is important, it’s also important to create a plan that’s tailored to your family, Williamson said.

For example, some children with neurodevelopmental differences, such as autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, have different sleep needs, or work or activity schedules can make it difficult to get to bed as early as you want your child to, she added.

If you think your child could benefit from more sleep, Williamson recommends starting small and even moving the bedtime back by 15 minutes.

And quality is just as important as quantity. To get a more restful night’s sleep, she recommends kids have the same bedtime every night (including weekends), turn off their screens 30 minutes before bed, and follow a bedtime routine, she added.

For some kids, that might mean calming activities that move them toward bed, but for other kids, it might mean dancing or stretching to prepare their bodies, Williamson said.

Some families may prioritize the bath, books and bedtime routine for younger children, but older children and even adults can benefit from following a schedule that cues the brain and body that it’s time to settle in, he said she.

“Sometimes I think if we focused more on sleep, many other aspects of children’s health and well-being would be greatly improved,” Taylor said. After all, she said, who doesn’t like a good night’s sleep?

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