LiveSmart: Kids, Sleep and the Need to Unplug

[This piece was written by Diane Tenenbaum, MD, of St. Peter’s Children’s Health Center.]

The magnetic attraction between teenagers and their smart phones has been well-documented. It seems like everyone has a story about their kids, or the children of a friend or co-worker, sending and receiving messages long past midnight!

Like everyone else nowadays, teenagers seldom get enough sleep; the average teenager gets about six hours of sleep when eight to 10 hours are necessary for healthy rest. For many teens, sleep deprivation – and the resulting health effects – may be getting worse because they are living in this age of constant communication. They are more tired, irritable and, possibly, more susceptible to viruses and illness.

In a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired during the day, according to their parents, and 28 percent of high school students reported falling asleep in school at least once a week.

Sleep deprivation can lead to headaches, impaired concentration, weakened immune systems, crankiness and hyperactive behavior often misconstrued as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Lack of sleep can impair memory, as well as cause coordination problems and sleepiness during the day.

According to a recent study by the International Association for the Study of Obesity, lost sleep can also be linked to rising obesity rates. Getting just one extra hour of sleep a night was linked to a 28 percent lower risk of being overweight and a 30 percent lower risk of being obese, according to the study. Kids who used electronic devices at bedtime generally slept less and were nearly 1.5 times more likely to be overweight.

Parents should set realistic limits on smart phone use and a bedtime. Some parents may want to take away phones and access to computers and television at night; others may rely on specific, clearly defined ground rules for a nighttime routine.

Today, more than ever, Moms and Dads should not try to be the “cool” parents and indulge unhealthy habits like late-night texting. Reading a book may be old-fashioned but it is a quiet activity that can help kids falls asleep. Everyone can rest easy – the phones will still be there in the morning.

St. Peter’s Children’s Health Center (1092 Madison Avenue, Albany – 525-2445) offers a complete range of services for children from newborns to age 18. Services include well-child routine care, sick child exams, school and camp physicals, sports physicals, immunizations, health maintenance and education, and access to other hospital services and referrals to specialists.

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