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Sleep Well – Sleep Healthy Outreach Program

A Joint Public Health Education Initiative From The International Chiropractors Association And King Koil Sleep Systems

Sleep Vital to Health, Growth and Your Child’s Performance in School

By Coralee Van Egmond, DC, FICA

 

Sleep is essential to health and human performance, and nowhere is this more important than in children who are going through their fundamental physical, emotional and intellectual development.  Scientific research has clarified how “…inadequate sleep results in tiredness, difficulties with focused attention, low threshold to express negative affect (irritability and easy frustration), and difficulty modulating impulses and emotions. In some cases these symptoms may resemble attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”[1]  In an era where achievement is vital to everything from a child’s basic emotional health and self esteem to their future career success, sleep problems are emerging as a major health and performance factors for children and young people worldwide.

Expert estimates of sleep problems in various age groups vary somewhat but all agree that sleep is a major and growing issue.  One respected researcher stated in 2008 that, “more than 2/3 of all children having some kind of sleep problem,”[2]and Australian researchers say almost 25% of six and seven year olds have trouble sleeping.[3]

With all of the distractions, demands and tensions in young lives, with waves of “electronic noise” from Face Book, Twitter, the Internet, cell phones, video games, computers for study and entertainment and television bombarding our children, the age of instant communication even has some young people afraid to go to sleep because they are afraid they might miss something.  Add these electronic distractions to a reduction in physical activity that is often a by-product of what I like to call “e-inactivity”, sugar- and caffeine-rich diets, and all of the social pressures that accompany the developmental years, and it is easy to see why adequate healthy sleep is indeed a difficult place for many young people to reach.

The consequences of sleeping problems are widespread and often severe, impacting health, growth, behavior and performance in school.  Leading researchers have identified series of negative consequences including the following:

  • “Poor sleepers” were significantly more likely to fail to meet requirements for their grade level;
  • Fatigue caused by poor sleep or lack of sufficient sleep time is a strong  predictor of school failure;
  • Students with better grades report more total sleep on school nights than students with lower grades;
  • Sleep, more than eating habits, mood, stress, time management, and social supports, accounted for the largest variance in grade point averages among college students;
  • Students in high schools with earlier start times (7:40 a.m. compared to 8:30 a.m.) reported shorter school-night total sleep times, and more sleep problems, more daytime fatigue and sleepiness, more difficulties with concentration and attention, greater likelihood of using stimulants (like caffeine) to stay awake, and poorer school performance;
  • Insufficient sleep is associated with school tardiness, inability to concentrate, tendency to doze off during class, and lowered school motivation. [4]

 

With so much at stake, parents may want to develop a healthy sleep action plan.   Every sleep action plan must look at each family member’s sleep environment.  The mattress is the first place to start. The appropriate level of support is essential; medium firm is most likely best, but with an adequate comfort level with a welcoming surface.  Size is also very important since we all move between 35 and 60 times each night and adequate room to comfortably move is essential. A growing child on a mattress too small to support their needs is a guarantee of sleep difficulties.

Restful room colors and proper sleeping temperature are also important environmental factors.   Sleep experts say that bright, vibrant colors may delay relaxation and sleep and relaxation. Comforting neutral colors, especially light pastels and muted tones are more likely to help children relax and wind down into healthy sleep. Likewise, room temperature is an important component in healthy sleep.  Too hot, it is hard to both fall and stay asleep.  Too cold, the same thing happens.

It is the behavioral changes that children must address that are likely to be most difficult.  Starting with diet, the consumption of high sugar, caffeine containing and other sleep-inhibiting substances need to be carefully regulated both in terms of quantity and when they are consumed.  One expert made the observation “you sleep what you eat” referring to this important role food plays on facilitating or inhibiting healthy sleep.

Next, noise and darkness need to be addressed.  For regular, healthy sleep on a predictable schedule, stimulation and emotions need to wind down which means that televisions, computers and cell phones need to not only be turned off but removed as a source of temptation to be turned on once the parents close the door.  A routine that involves quiet, calming activities in which parents are regularly involved can help a lot.

Setting a predictable schedule is essential.  School-aged children need somewhere between 9 and 12 hours of sleep at night but resistance to parental rules about sleep and social concerns and demands almost guarantee that children will push back very hard. Be prepared to deal with such resistance.

Parents must commit the time and the thoughtfulness it will certainly take to effectively address the sleep challenges and needs of children of all ages.  It is, however, one of the best investments you can make in your children’s future and good health.  Preventing problems in school and elsewhere that are sleep-related is so much easier and much more responsible than trying to solve them once they surface.

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[1]Ronald E. Dahl, “The impact of inadequate sleep on children’s daytime cognitive function, “Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, Pages 44-50, March 1996.

[2]Breus, Michael J, PhD, MD, “Back to School, Back to Sleep: Fixing your children’s sleep problems may improve their grades and their behavior,”  www.WebMD.com.

[3]Quach, Jon, BSc, Hiscock, Harriet, MD, Canterford, Louise, GDipSci(Stats), Wake, Melissa, MDOutcomes ofChild SleepProblems Over the School-Transition Period: AustralianPopulation LongitudinalStudy,”PEDIATRICSVol. 123 No. 5 May 2009, pp. 1287-1292 (doi:10.1542/peds.2008-1860.

[4]Wolfson, Amy R. and Carskadon, Mary A, “Understanding adolescents sleep patterns and school performance: a critical appraisal,” Sleep Medicine Review, 2003; 7 (6):491-50.

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The International Chiropractors Association is presently engaged in a comprehensive review of sleep research with the aim of making those findings available to chiropractic practitioners worldwide.  We also believe that this review of the current state of sleep research will point to areas of where additional study is needed and, in cooperation with our affiliated educational institutions and with the support of our sleep products partner King Koil, we hope to help fill such gaps in sleep knowledge.  For more information contact ICA at chiro@chiropractic.org, TEL. 01-703-528-5000.

 

 

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