An acquaintance who tutors children reported on Facebook today that she had been asked by a parent to come by to tutor a six-year-old after 9:00 pm. The family was really busy until then. Really ?! Three questions came immediately to mind. 1. Why does a six-year-old need tutoring? 2. How is a six-year-old supposed to pay attention and learn anything after 9:00 pm? 3. Why isn’t a six-year-old in bed and already asleep by 9:00 pm?
I will try to limit myself to one of these questions here: why isn’t a six-year-old in bed and already asleep by 9:00 pm? I absolutely understand that today’s parents often work and the only time they have to spend with their children is the evening and weekends. It stands to reason, then, that they would want to enjoy as much time as possible with those children. However, children need their sleep. According to the following chart, this six-year-old needs 10 - 11 hours of sleep. If she is being tutored until 10:00 pm, then preparing for bed, she probably does not get to sleep until 11:00 pm. If her parents wake her at 7:00 am for school, she is getting no more than 8 hours sleep. This little tyke is being sleep deprived at least by two to three hours every night.
The National Sleep Foundation also tells us that the effects of sleep deprivation are huge. In fact, short sleep deprivation is associated with:
- Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
- Increase in body mass index - a greater likelihood of obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation
- Increased risk of diabetes and heart problems
- Increased risk for psychiatric conditions, including depression and substance abuse
- Decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals, or remember new information
I am sure that if these parents knew that they were putting their little girl at risk for all of these things, they would, perhaps, make sure that she had an earlier bedtime.
This makes me wonder about the possible connection between the numbers of children today who are not getting enough sleep and the increased frequency of ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, and emotional/behavioral diagnoses that we are seeing. Perhaps many of these children are being mis-diagnosed. Perhaps they are exhibiting symptoms not of a pathological nature, but simply of a sleep deprivation one.
So, what can parents do to ensure that their children get enough sleep and wake refreshed? Again, according to the National Sleep Foundation, they can do the following:
- Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends. (I remember taking my children to DisneyWorld and tucking them into bed at 7:30 pm each night because it was their bedtime.)
- Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music, reading a book aloud or singing a particular song.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
- Provide a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Do not allow your children to watch television, play on a computer, or have a cell phone in the bedroom
- Finish eating at least two to three hours before the regular bedtime
So, the next time you are tempted to allow your child to stay up late because it is more convenient for you, remember the importance of sleep and tuck the little one into bed.