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SATURDAY, July 19 (HealthDayNews) -- Parents may be able to get
by on little sleep from time to time, but shortchanging kids on
slumber can turn their days into nightmares.
Studies show younger children who don't get enough sleep -- nine
hours is considered optimum for elementary school children -- can
suffer in school, are at higher risk for accidents and could even be
mistakenly thought to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) because the symptoms of sleep deprivation closely mirror
those of ADHD.
This is not a small problem, says Carl Hunt, director of the
National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
"All the evidence we have suggests that perhaps a third of
children don't get the amount of sleep they need," he says, "and the
price children pay for not getting enough sleep is an increased risk
for accidents and problems in learning, mood and behavior."
Exacerbating the problem, Hunt says, is that the sleepiest
children often don't seem sleepy at all.
"A major problem with children if they are sleep-deprived is that
once they get up and get going, they don't act sleepy during the day
and early evening. Instead, the sleep deprivation may have the
opposite effect, and they may be overactive," he says. "Because they
don't act sleepy, parents don't appreciate that the cause of their
hyperactivity is sleep deprivation, but there is a clear association
between lack of sleep and overactivity."
Recent studies confirm the additional risks of sleep deprivation.
In the March/April issue of Child Development, Israeli
psychologist Avi Sadeh reported that among a group of elementary
school children, as little as one extra hour of sleep a night
significantly improved school performance.
Among a group of 77 fourth- and sixth-graders who were tested
before the study and again after they had either added or eliminated
an hour of sleep, Sadeh found those who had more sleep improved
their performance by as much as two grade levels on tests assessing
attention span and memory, both of which are necessary for optimum
Those who lost an hour of their regular sleep showed no
improvement on the memory and attention span tests, and on tests
measuring reaction times performed significantly poorer than they
had before they were sleep-deprived.
"This is the first evidence that really minor variations of sleep
in children can have measurable effects on cognitive function,"
The playground can become a more dangerous place for tired
children as well.
A recent Italian study of approximately 300 children under 14 who
visited an emergency room in Udine, Italy, compared the sleep
patterns of children on the days they were injured to their sleep
patterns when they weren't hurt and found a link between lack of
sleep and increased risk of injury.
Among the findings: Sleeping less than 10 hours a day was
associated with an 86 percent increase in risk for injury; and
children between the ages of 3 and 5 who slept less than 10 hours a
day seemed to have a significant increase of risk of injury,
Getting kids to sleep earlier is a challenge, experts agree.
"Insufficient sleep is becoming a major health concern all over
the world. But it is a challenging one, especially for children,
because the attraction for kids to television, the computer and
other media, as well as school demands, are very hard to compete
with," Sadeh says.
Add to that the fact that sleep gets no respect.
"Society in general and adults undervalue sleep," Hunt says.
"Most people need between eight and 10 hours a night, but people
say, 'That sounds good, but I don't need that much sleep.' "
Young children need more sleep, at least nine hours a night on a
consistent basis, Hunt says. "So the first step is for parents to
appreciate that sleep matters and understand the price children pay
for not getting enough sleep," he says.
The NHLBI offers the following tips for parents to help get their
kids to bed.
- Set a regular time for bed each night and stick to it.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as giving your
child a warm bath or reading him or her a story.
- Avoid giving children a big meal close to bedtime, and no
caffeine within six hours of sleep.
- Make after-dinner playtime relaxing; too much exercise
close to bedtime can keep children awake.
- Keep the noise level down and the bedroom dark. If some
light is necessary, use a small nightlight.