Help kids get enough sleep

Published 6:20 pm Friday, September 11, 2020

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By Nathan Rice

The middle-school-aged girl sat across from me, wiping away tears from her face. “I couldn’t stop crying at school,” she said. “I didn’t even know why I was crying.” We started talking about the events of the day, and I asked questions to see if I could find a cause for her distress. I discovered through our conversation that she had not gotten any sleep the night before. She stayed up all night playing a new video game. It’s no wonder she was more emotional than usual, even for a teenage girl.

I spoke with another student who was struggling with his grades in elementary school. “I always sleep through class,” he said. “It’s the best sleep I ever get.” I found out that he frequently stays up late, playing video games or watch videos. Therefore, it’s no surprise he sleeps in class.

These aren’t the only two students who have experienced one issue or another due to not sleeping properly at night. It’s a theme that has been reoccurring for the past year with several of the kids with whom I work.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children get between 8 to 12 hours a sleep a day, depending on the age of the child. Not getting the proper amount of sleep can have mental and physical consequences, but it doesn’t take a doctor for us to know that fact.

We have all experienced periods when we have not gotten enough sleep. We know how it affects our bodies and our brains. These effects are only amplified in children. Children need to sleep, but they would frequently rather do something else. This is why parents must ensure children are getting the proper amount of sleep.

The first step is to set a bedtime for children based on age and schedule. This bedtime must then be enforced. The time can be flexible to an extent, but a set bedtime can help children get into a routine that can greatly assist in their sleep habits.

The time can be changed based on the child’s schedule, such as a school schedule compared to a vacation schedule. It is important, however, to consider the child’s upcoming schedule. For example, you may wish to allow children to stay up a little later on a Friday or Saturday night during the school year, but allowing them to stay up too late will make a return to an earlier bedtime on Sunday night difficult. Be sure you are looking at the full schedule and not considering just one night or day at a time.

When bedtimes are set, consider ways to prepare children for their slumber. There are many tips to helping ease children to sleep, such as limiting screen time and eliminating strenuous activities a few hours before it is time to sleep.

I was saddened by the fact that the kids with whom I spoke were struggling due to something that is an easier fix than most problems that arise. A good night’s sleep each night would help calm the teenage girl’s emotions and help the elementary school-aged boy learn at school.

They are kids, however, and the lure of video games is stronger than the desire to learn. It is up to the adults to ensure the kids are getting the sleep they need.


Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at