As a father of twin nine-year old boys, I feel left out.
I've never once experienced the sensation of my children running into my room in the morning and jumping on my bed to wake me up.
I've never wandered downstairs in the morning and discovered my children traipsing around the house, making a mess, raiding the refrigerator and taking advantage of the fact I'm still snoring upstairs in bed.
Heck, even on freakin' Christmas morning I have to go into their bedroom to wake them up because otherwise they'd sleep until noon.
In other words, my kids are sleep hogs. They love their sleep and get beautiful, deep, brain and body repairing sleep every night of the year.
But I've grown to realize this is abnormal. Most kids are not sleeping enough.
See, although a child's physiology is finely tuned to the amount of sleep they get, we adults and parents all-too-often get in the way. We give them electronic devices to keep them quiet at night. We don't give a second thought to massive amounts of artificial light in the bedroom. We keep the TV or computer on late into the night or we allow TVs and other electronic screens in a child's bedroom. We toss them onto allergen and chemical coated mattresses that disrupt their sleep chemistry and biomechanics.
And now we're paying the price. 30-40% of kids don’t get enough sleep each night (and the sleep they do get is often of poor quality, resulting in bad behavior, poor grades, brain fog, ADD, ADHD, appetite, overweight issues and a host of other issues that well-slept kids don't have to deal with). As a matter of fact, over 2 million kids have diagnosed sleep disorders, and even obstructive sleep apnea – a hidden sleep killer I've written about in the past – is now prevalent enough in kids that it has its own name: pediatric OSA. Doesn't this make you wonder how the plummeting quality of nighttime rest affects how our children fare socially, emotionally and academically?
So in this article, I'm going to share with you some of the most effective strategies and tools I've found to ensure that a child's sleep is optimized, the scary statistics about what happens to their precious biology when kids don't sleep enough, and exactly how much sleep kids should get.
5 Bad Things That Happen When Kids Don't Sleep Enough
Kids’ sleep is truly precious.
I don't know about you, but not much beats the sight of a little one wrapped in a blanket, soft, curly hair strewn over their pillow, breathing softly and looking happy and serene…
…especially in stark contrast to a baby or child who is frowning, tossing, turning, snoring and moaning in their sleep.
But a sleeping child isn't just a precious sight to see – a sleeping child represents a human body undergoing a host of beneficial physiological mechanisms. Consider the following five important things that happen as a baby or child sleeps.
1. Brain Flushing
The latest discoveries in sleep science have shown that there’s much more to sleep than just recovery. For example, sleep scientists have long known that sleeping is critically important to the development of brain functions such as learning new information and forming and storing long-term memories.
But in this recent study, a team of scientists found that during sleep the brain also literally cleanses itself by flushing out its own waste via vascular network similar to a plumbing system, which “opens up” and actually drains while a child is in a state of sleep. The researchers hypothesize that this cleanup process is energy intensive, and so the brain may be waiting until bedtime to take out its own trash, so to speak.
2. Growth Hormone
In the past, I've highlighted natural ways to increase growth hormone in humans, including quality sleep. Indeed, recent research reinforces the idea that uninterrupted nighttime rest is particularly vital for kids because of the growth hormone release, which is crucial for tissue and muscle development in a growing human.
In children, growth hormone is produced overnight, particularly between midnight and 6am, so it’s important that kids sleep soundly through the night, not stay awake for prolonged periods in the evening, and definitely be sound asleep before midnight and not up in the wee hours before dawn.
3. Better Attention
In addition to creating physical issues, sleep debt can also cause behavioral and emotional problems. It can shorten a child's attention span and bring on ADHD-like symptoms. Many children are misdiagnosed with ADHD simply because they aren’t sleeping enough. This study (which surveyed nearly 2500 kids aged 6 to 15) confirmed that kids with sleep problems are more likely to be hyperactive, impulsive and aggressive. Another study supports these findings that sleep disturbances may be the cause of many ADHD symptoms. In other words, adults who don't sleep enough tend to get tired, sleepy, slow and lazy, while kids who don't sleep enough tend to become hyperactive and poorly behaved.
4. Optimized Metabolism
A number of studies have shown how chronic sleep debt contributes to obesity and diabetes in children. Sleep modulates the neuroendocrine system for hormones and glucose and insulin metabolism, so when kids don’t sleep enough, these vital processes are deleteriously affected. Epidemiological studies show that in modern societies children often spend less time in bed than they did just a few decades ago – a fact that likely contributes to the United States’ growing childhood overweight and obesity epidemic.
5. Healthier Immune System
Sleep debt can make kids more likely to get sick. Sleep deprivation can lower the immune system strength, making children far more susceptible to being affected by germs and bacteria. Interestingly, when administered a vaccine, sleep-deprived people don't develop enough of a response to it, compared to people who had enough sleep, proving the relationship between a lack of sleep and a suppressed immune system.
In a nutshell, if your baby or child doesn't sleep enough, you're asking for a foggy brain, poor growth, ADHD-like symptoms, weight issues with poor blood sugar control and a compromised immune system, not to mention a significant loss of your own sanity!
How Much Sleep Should Kids Get?
So exactly how much sleep should kids get?
New sleep guidelines for babies, school-age children and teens outline exactly how many hours of sleep kids need at every age in order to help them be at their best. The American Academy of Pediatrics is lending its backing to the recommendations developed in this research by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Here's the summary of how much sleep kids need at different ages, according to a consensus group of 13 sleep medicine experts and researchers who developed the new recommendations:
- Infants 4 to 12 months – 12 to 16 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
- Children 1 to 2 years – 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
- Children 3 to 5 years – 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
- Children 6 to 12 years – 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
- Teens 13 to 18 years – 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
Recommendations for babies younger than 4 months aren't included because there is a very wide range of what's normal when it comes to sleep patterns in newborns, and there isn't enough research to back up guidance for optimal sleep time in infants.
Based on this data, how are you doing? Is your baby sleeping 12-16 hours for every 24 hours? Is your 10 year old getting 9-12 hours of sleep every 24 hours? Is your 2 year old scoring the occasional 14 hour sleep night? And just as importantly, is their sleep environment – from lighting, to allergens, to chemicals and beyond – ensuring that every second of that sleep is turning them in to a better human? Let's now turn to the ways you can help your kid meet the sleep recommendations above and get better sleep.
Seven Ways You Can Help Your Kid (And You) Get Better Sleep
Yes, kids who do not get enough sleep are getting shorted out of experiencing life at it's fullest, and are in fact, often sick, constantly hungry, notoriously misbehaved and do poor in school.
And yes, it really is possible for the average nine year old to log 9-12 hour of sleep each night. Just ask my kids.
So what are a few of the things we do at the Greenfield house to optimize sleep? Here are seven ways you can help your kids (and you) get better sleep.
1. Limit Electronics. No, Seriously. Do It.
Light significantly stimulates wakefulness and decreases melatonin release. Prepare to be shocked: there is no computer, no phones, no television, no video games no e-reader and zero artificial light in my children's bedroom. Period.
Not only that, but each of the phones in our house is always in blue light blocking mode with the WiFi and bluetooth turned off, each computer has Iris blue-light blocking software installed, and even the television is equipped with the type of blue light blocking box I discuss here.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all screens be turned off at least 30 minutes before bedtime and suggests keeping televisions, computers, smartphones and other screens out of kids' bedrooms.
So what do my children do when laying around in bed at night?
Frankly, they do the same I do: they read. Real. Paper. Books.
2. Keep The Bedroom Allergen & Toxin Free
Coughing, sneezing, red-eyed, wheezing, distracted kids simply don't sleep well. From the material their mattress is made from (more on that later) to the cleaning chemicals used in their room, to the personal care products they're slathered with, to the presence or absence of mold, fungus and volatile organic compounds, the allergen and toxin status of your child's bedroom can make or break issues such as sleep-disordered breathing and insomnia. For example this recent study found a strong correlation between secondhand smoke exposure and significant sleep disturbances in adolescents.
How do you get started with this strategy? I'd recommend reading and implementing my “How To Detox Your Home” article.
3. Keep Blood Sugar Stabilized
When we go out to a restaurant, our boys don't even glance at the kid's “special menu” (code for chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, french fries, peanut butter and jelly, and all manner of frankenfoods that create rampant inflammation and assail a tiny human body's cell membranes – a nasty restaurant trick indeed).
Instead they have always simply eaten as we eat: off the more complex and clean adult menu, and when at home, real food comprised of high amounts of healthy fats, moderate amounts of clean, organic protein, copious amounts of plants and reasonable amounts of natural carbohydrates such a properly prepared grains and legumes, rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet and mom's homemade sourdough bread. We don't force them to eat these things. They've just always eaten them because that's all we really keep around the house.
This also means that since before bed they aren't dipping into candy, chocolates, high glycemic index carbohydrates and allergenic foods, they aren't getting the notorious nighttime spike in blood sugar followed later by a drop in blood sugar, which can lead to a feeling of intense hunger and leave kids awake in the middle of the night.
4. Practice Mindfulness, Gratitude, Prayer And/Or Meditation
Meditation can quiet the mind, reduce stress and improve sleep. For example, a February 2015 study found that after just six sessions, a meditation and mindfulness practice reduced insomnia, fatigue and depression and improved sleep in study participants. Sure, this study was conducted among older adults, but there’s solid evidence that this approach is effective for kids, too.
At our house, we do morning gratitude journal using this Gratitude Journal I designed, followed by evening prayer and meditation.
5. Block Blue Light
Lately, I’ve learned that I may have unknowingly been threatening the health of my boys because kids who use electronics haven't yet developed natural protection in their eyes. So protection for them is even more important than for us.
Recently, Dr. Dave Lee, from the Children's Eye Center, told Fox News: “As we get older, the lens in our eyes naturally gets a little bit more yellow. That acts as a natural filter for that blue light. But children have little or no yellowing to their lens so they don't have that natural protection.”
You can watch the segment from Dr. Lee on Fox News here. In it, he also says that by the age of 17, the average child will have spent six years looking at digital devices.
And that’s not all. Children begin carrying digital devices from the moment they can carry them. Studies show 72% of kids aged eight and younger have used tablets or smartphones. More than 33% of these kids were under the age of two.
This is definitely not a good thing if you're NOT protecting childrens’ eyes from the harsh, damaging effects of blue light. Just think about all that artificial light emanating from the screens of video games, cell phones, tablets, computers and televisions. That light can drastically affect kids' vision and their overall health. Heck, light pollution is now even classified as a carcinogen!
That's exactly why my own boys recently began to use these blue light blocking glasses just for kids (you can use 10% discount code “BEN10” on them). Not only that, but I recently “upgraded” my boys to their own tiny, personal full wrap-around SleepMaster Sleep Masks so they are slumbering in luxury, no black-out curtains required.
6. Use Natural Lightbulbs
Yep, more on light. I hope you're getting the idea this is important. Throughout our entire house, we use a special form of lighting called “biological lighting”, created by a company called “Lighting Science“.
In our childrens' bedroom, we use a specific type of bulb called a “Sleepy Baby Nursery Light Bulb“. The bulb is designed to help a child or baby produce the sleep hormone melatonin, specifically by filtering out stimulating blue light spectrum. It provides more than enough light for bedtime stories, diaper changes or midnight feedings, but a baby’s brain or a kid's brain registers the light produced by this bulb far differently than blue-light packed artificial, flickering light, making it far easier for them to get to sleep or to fall back asleep if the lights are switched on at any point during the night.
7. Get The Right Mattress
If you've done the math based on the sleep recommendations above, then you know that in an ideal scenario, your child is going to spend over 1/3 of their life in bed. Yet most kids are sleeping on top of flame retardants, metal, electricity-conducting antennas they call “mattress springs”, and off-gassing and toxins from years of sweat and dead skin cells that get absorbed into most average mattress materials. I discuss this and a host of other problems with most modern mattresses in my article “Is Your Mattress Slowly Killing You?“, in which I highlight the best organic mattress solution for adults and the “Essentia” mattress my wife and I personally sleep on.
Based on my own strong belief that I want to treat my childrens' body and brains the same way I treat my own, I recently upgraded our kids to their own organic twin mattresses for kids – mattresses that are allergy friendly and create a clean air sleep environment. The mattress, called a “Grateful Bed JR” is a 6 inch mattress is made with certified organic latex and wrapped in organic cotton. You'd be hard pressed to find an organic kids mattress, latex mattress or any natural mattress with this level of comfort and support with a 20-year warranty at this price.
The same company – Essentia mattresses – also produce a waterproof mattress protector for the little accidents sleeping kid sometimes produce in their beds and a natural crib mattress to ensure a baby is on the safest and purest sleep surface made of natural memory foam that uses hevea milk (rubber tree sap) to make it feel like memory foam without all the known chemicals and additives in most memory foam. All their hypoallergenic children and adult mattresses are designed to address the following important sleep elements: blood flow, spinal alignment and body temperature.
It always shocks me when I see parents who complain about their children's “allergies and asthma”, hyperactivity, poor behavior, bad grades, or otherwise disruptive behavior, yet feed their children cereal and milk for breakfast, give them unlimited screen time, don't take a second glance at the type of lighting in their child's bedroom, and force their child to spend a third of their life on a toxic mattress. It just doesn't seem logical or fair.
It's really doesn't seem that abnormal to protect a child's precious eyes at night, to feed a child blood-sugar stabilizing, nutrient-dense food, to avoid subjecting a child to toxins and allergens all night long and to provide them with a natural, organic sleep surface.
At least that's my take.
How about you?
Finally, when it comes to growing tiny superhumans, here are a few other great resources for you that I've written. Enjoy!
- 10 Ways to Grow Tiny Superhumans (e-book)
- 10 Tips For Raising Healthy, Smart and Successful Kids
- Why More Kids Are Getting Exercise Induced Asthma, and What You Can Do About It
- How To Create a No-Guilt Birthday Party Meal For Your Kids, or You
- 4 Ways to Include Your Kids in Your Workouts
- Can Kids Exercise Too Much?
- How To Get Your Kids Fit
- The Secret to Getting Your Kids Fit
- How Much Should Kids Exercise?
- Staying Fit With Kids
Finally, here's a quick list of products I mentioned:
- Essentia website (use code BEN10 for 10% discount)
- Swannies blue light blocking glasses just for kids (use code BEN10 for 10% discount)
- Sleepy Baby Nursery Light Bulb
- The Gratitude Journal I designed
- SleepMaster Sleep Masks
- Iris blue-light blocking software
- Drift blue light blocker for TV
Leave your comments, questions, thoughts or feedback below and I promise to reply!
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Also published on Medium.