As my oldest has shifted to middle school with an earlier school start time I have had sleep on my mind. Selfishly because I want to sleep past 6AM, but also because I worry about what potential sleep deprivation will have on the young developing brain for learning and happiness.
Fortunately for us, my son goes to bed by 8PM and wakes naturally by 6 AM so it hasn’t been much of a problem for us….yet.
However, when I look at the other struggles parents have with the early morning start times I see worrisome trends. The rates of childhood obesity are rising especially in the middle school aged children, kids are glued to their phones at the bus stop – kids don’t look or listen to their environment to be sure they aren’t in harm’s way, not to mention the struggles with learning.
Yes, one solution may be to change the school start times, but what if the solution may be to actually change our sleep habits in the home? What if we continued to hold the same regulations on sleep through the teenage years as we did for infants? I remember RELIGIOUSLY dictating my young infants sleep routine because if my baby didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep? What if?
Maybe these few studies will help stimulate you to oblige the SLEEP SCHEDULE a bit longer.
We all know that obesity is a worldwide epidemic and largely contributed to by lifestyle. This lifestyle includes not only poor food choices, but also physical inactivity, excessive time on academic-related activities, inadequate sleep and higher levels of screen viewing in children 7-12 years. This association may be worth serious consideration.
Influence on sleep on obesity in children has become a topic of interest recently. Sleep deprivation induces weight gain as a result of disturbance of hormones that control the hunger center, and result in reduced physical activity and metabolic changes. Night time sleep duration for the child has declined while prevalence of obesity has risen. Not a sole cause and effect per se, but an interesting association.
Another study examining the effects of acute sleep restriction of a 50% bedtime delay on sleep was associated with a decrease in neuronal networks in the developing brain. Specifically, sleep deprivation was linked to a reduced myelination specific parieto-occipital regions of the brain. One night of a 50% of habitual sleep reduction in a child showed changes in brain development. Is this a long-term change? What are the effects of chronic insufficient sleep? This study did not address those questions. Gut instincts should safely answer those questions.
Another risk factor on poor sleep habits appears to be screen use. A survey study showed that use of video devices was a negative predictor of sleep duration including a TV in the bedroom. This is a modifiable risk factor for all families, to limit all screen time use. There was a clear negative association with optimal sleep associated with having a TV in the bedroom.
Lack of quality sleep is associated with detrimental effects on the metabolism and the neurological growth in the pediatric population. Even though we might be able to predict what might negatively impact sleep quality (screen time), we can also predict the value of adequate sleep to improve metabolism, learning, athletic performance, reduced injury and improved recovery. Educating our educators, parents, coaches and children is critical to our school and community success.
Yet, how much is enough sleep. There are many organizations that give recommendations on the amount of sleep needed, yet they not only don’t always agree, they aren’t specific. I have even discussed this issue in my book Soar Into Health. To begin, the amount of sleep a person needs is dependent on their individual circumstances. School aged children (6-13 yo) need 9-11 hours of sleep. The best rule of thumb is that one is able to wake naturally without an alarm clock. If you need to regularly rise out of bed at 6AM, then fiddle with your bedtime until you find that it works for you or your child. Clearly, our sleep-wake cycles are effected by our rapid changing habits around social media and computer use so one must learn how to balance that with your sleep needs. Having conversations with teachers or coaches is PARAMOUNT to your child's success. Any teacher or coach would be open to this as they enjoy kids at their best. We cannot blame them for the problem if we haven't discussed it DIRECTLY with them.
Another simple thing that might not only improve one’s metabolism but also positively affect our circadian rhythm and sleep quality is…wait for it….EATING BREAKFAST! Eating breakfast acutely affects our circadian clock and gene expression. Skipping breakfast adversely affects not only our metabolism but potentially our sleep. Yes, eating a whole food, nutrient dense breakfast packed with protein, healthy fat, vegetables and fruit NOT a breakfast from a package.
I am not going to suggest that we shouldn’t consider shifting the school start times for middle school and high school, but certainly as a parent we need to consider our role in the struggle of our child’s learning. That’s tough to admit that we may have inadvertently put our child at a disadvantage, but admitting we are human is the only way to live this life. Teaching our children to value sleep and modifying the risk factors we have within our control is what learning is all about.
We have more freedom to control our environment than we believe.
Remember, if it is good for the children, it just may be good for us parents too.
If you find you have made these adjustments and you find your child is still struggling with school start times, then maybe starting a petition for change in your school is warranted. Try that here.
"Nothing changes until something moves" - Albert Einstein
Maybe we, as parents, are the ones that need to "move" the bedtimes of our children earlier and re"move" screens from the bedrooms and hands of our children.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove placing blame on others outside of the home for your sleep deprived child.
Replace with an acknowledgement of the freedom we have to control modifiable risk factors within the home. Our children are begging us to teach them how to manage this ever-changing world and how to be healthy and smart. Let’s start with screens off and protein packed breakfast…EVERY NIGHT. EVERY DAY. We CAN do this!
Restore mental WEALTH and metabolic HEALTH.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Connect Well….SOAR ON
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.