The Holidays and Sleep
By Simon Lao, B.S.
Happy holidays from your friends at the OCD and Anxiety Program of Southern California! The holiday season can be a wonderful time of the year. Kids are excited to have a break from school and many families are preparing to travel, attend or host family gatherings, explore evening activities (e.g., Zoo lights, New Year’s celebration) and countless other holiday traditions. This is also a time of year when it can be almost impossible to keep a consistent schedule. For children, this disruption can often lead to sleep difficulties. The recommended amount of sleep for children ages 6-13 years is approximately 9 to 11 hours of continuous sleep and children ages 14 – 18 should be sleeping approximately 8 to 9 hours. However, due to the increasing demands from school, extracurricular activities, and social activities, many children may not be sleeping the recommended amounts outside of the holiday season. Children and parents alike, may view the holiday season and breaks from school as an opportunity to “catch up” on sleep. However, in many instances, sleep may actually become worse. Children may stay up later because they do not have to wake up early the next day, parents may become more lenient on bedtime routines, and sleep schedules can often be sacrificed for holiday activities. An inconsistent sleep schedule for children may lead to your child to become sleep deprived. Sleep deprived children have been known to have more difficulties with memory, lower attention span, increased irritability, and may experience more problems at school academically and socially.
So how do you know if your child is sleep deprived? Sleep deprivation in children are similar to sleep deprivation in adults. Think about how you feel when you are exhausted. It may be harder to wake up in the morning, you may have a strong urge to nap during the day, or you may inadvertently fall asleep at times you shouldn’t be sleeping. You may also experience more irritability or have a lower mood when you’re tired. You know your child the best and how they usually behave. If you notice irregularities in your child’s sleep patterns and a sudden shift in physical tiredness, mood, or behavior, it may be a sign your child is sleep deprived. Finally, do not let your children tell you if they are tired or not. Children are notoriously bad at judging how tired they are or they may want those few extra minutes of “fun” time even though they are exhausted.
Here are some suggestions for getting your child’s sleep back on track after a hectic holiday season and good habits to keep through the year.
- Develop a regular sleep schedule. Your child should go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Children benefit from a bedtime routine that is the same every night and includes calm and enjoyable activities. Including one-on-one time with a parent is helpful in maintaining communication with your child and having a clear connection every day.
- Set up a soothing sleep environment. Make sure your child’s bedroom is comfortable, dark, cool, and quiet. A nightlight is fine, a TV is not.
- Set limits. If your child stalls at bedtime, be sure to set clear limits, such as what time lights must be turned off and how many bedtime stories you will read.
- Turn off TVs, computers, and radios. Watching TV, playing computer games, surfing the internet, and other stimulating activities at bedtime will cause sleep problems.
- Avoid caffeine. Caffeine can be found in sodas, coffee-based products, iced tea, and many other substances.
- For older children, avoid oversleeping on weekends. Although catching up on some sleep during the weekends can be helpful, sleeping until noon on Sunday will make it hard for your teenager to get back on a school schedule that night.
- Contact your child’s doctor. Speak to your child’s physician if your child has difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, excessive snoring, experiencing unusual awakenings (e.g. night terrors), or has sleep problems that are causing disruption during the daytime.
Astill, R. G., Van der Heijden, K. B., Van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Van Someren, E. J. (2012). Sleep, cognition, and behavioral problems in school-age children: A century of research meta-analyzed. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 1109.
Resource: Mindell, J.A., & Owens, J.A. (2003). A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
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