Considering how important sleep is to our proper functioning as human beings it is interesting how easy it is for our sleep cycles to be disrupted, either by circumstances outside our control or more commonly by our own choices. While some view sleep as a necessary nuisance it is clear that good sleep patterns contribute to improved school/work performance, help us maintain a healthier weight, and give us time for mental and physical restoration.
When it comes to school or the workplace sleep deprivation often manifests as decreased attention span and difficulty in task completion. You may notice these are similar symptoms that we associate with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). At times academic struggles can be linked directly back to poor sleep routines and once those bad habits are corrected there is a corresponding improvement in school. During my time as a Medical Officer for the Navy if there is one thing that I learned, and learned well, it was that the effectiveness of at Sailor or Marine declines rapidly once they become sleep deprived and at times you needed to order them to get some sleep to ensure that they were ready to complete the mission. As a parent, I’ve also found this same principle frequently holds true for my own children as well.
Another interesting correlation is that the more sleep deprived you become the more likely you are to be overweight. One interesting study by Janice F. Bell, Ph.D., MPH, of the University of Washington conducted in between 1997 and 2002 found that children who did not get adequate nighttime sleep between the ages of zero to 4 years were 33%more likely to be obese than children who had adequate sleep. These effects were slightly more noticeable in those aged 5 to 13 years who were 36% more likely to be obese. People often ask me why would inadequate sleep lead to this weight gain? While the complex answer involves the changes that occur to hormone release, the more straight-forward answer is that when we are tired we eat more to try to increase our energy levels. Any good weight maintenance or weight loss plan should begin with ensuring adequate sleep is occurring.
One final thing to consider is that sleep is essential to the restoration of both mind and body. I frequently talk with teenagers who have always been good students but begin struggling in their very busy lives as they are involved with multiple after school activities and part-time jobs. The primary concern they present with is that “I just feel tired.” Parents are often concerned this reflects a thyroid problem or some other chronic disease, but once I ask a few questions it becomes clear that the real problem is they are only getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night. While a person can compensate for a while with decreased sleep, eventually they will become rundown because it is during sleep that the body rebuilds muscle and the brain organizes all the information and stimuli that it has received during the day. When you or your child begin to feel to run down a good first step is to double your efforts to get adequate sleep.
Some general guideline on sleep amounts are listed below:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
If your attempts to improve your child’s sleep patterns have been unsuccessful and you would like to discuss it further, all of the Pediatricians here at Canyon View Pediatrics are ready to help.
Patrick McVey, MD
Canyon View Pediatrics