Note to readers: I have been researching recent studies about sleep deprivation in school children and teens and the terrible toll this takes on children's brain development. I want to share this information; please take it seriously and pass it on to other parents.
According to surveys by the National Sleep Foundation, 90 percent of parents think their children are getting enough sleep. Down deep, the kids know otherwise. Their school performance reflects the truth.
Sixty percent of high-schoolers report extreme daytime sleepiness. More than 25 percent fall asleep in class and 25 percent report their grades have dropped.
The truth is that half of all adolescents get fewer than seven hours of sleep on weeknights. By the time they are seniors that number is closer to 6.5 hours. Only 5 percent of seniors get eight hours.
We remember being tired at school, but our stress and activities were far less demanding than those of today's kids.
It has been documented that children today from elementary school through high school get at least one hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago. Causes? Overscheduling, burdensome homework, lax parental rules about bedtime and cell phones and other electronics in the bedroom.
Now that we know more about the cost to the child of losing that hour of sleep; we can no longer ignore the problem.
A child's brain is not fully developed just because he starts attending school and learns to read. Most parents relax bedtime rules when kids go to school, when actually they should do the opposite.
The truth is this: The child's brain development is a work in progress that is not complete until age 21! Worse, most of the actual developmental work of the brain actually takes place during sleep when connections are made and the right and left sides of the brain work together.
Just as we need sleep to heal, the child's brain needs sleep so that the developmental work can be done. This means the loss of sleep has a far greater impact on children and teens than it does on adults.
Specific things that are affected by the lack of sleep are:
n Coordination of thoughts to fulfill a goal,
n Prediction of outcomes or "executive function," (causing unwise and sometimes dangerous decisions)
n The ability to perceive the consequences of actions.
Just imagine a teen with sleep deprivation driving a car, while talking on a cell phone or texting "¦ it's an accident waiting to happen.
These sleep deprivation habits don't just start happening in the elementary school or teen years. Bad sleep habits probably began when children were toddlers. I receive many letters from parents who say they have "trouble getting their kids to go to sleep at night."
I beg to differ.
With no exceptions, the problem these parents have had is that they never set a consistent bedtime for their children nor had a daily bedtime routine. They never said, "NO, it is time to put away the toys now and get ready for bed." They never insisted that "Bedtime is 8:30 and that's that."
Parents cannot let babies, toddlers and preschoolers wander about and stay up all hours with them as if they were companions. Young children need 10-12 hours of sleep in the early years. At age 5 they still need eight to nine hours and older than 5 they need every bit of eight hours.
Parents — wake up and take responsibility. Make sure your children, no matter their ages, are NOT sleep deprived. Children need sleep; this is a health and development issue that can affect them for life, and it certainly will affect parents as well.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.