When I evaluate a new client for anxiety, I always begin by
asking the child's parent about sleep habits. Without fail, I am told that sleep really isn’t an
issue. No nightmares. No trouble falling asleep. No trouble staying asleep.
Other than the occasional refusal to go to bed or request for 10 more minutes,
sleep is rarely identified as a problem.
Until the parent leaves the room. That’s when kids of all
ages really talk about sleep.
It usually takes me an
hour to fall asleep. I wake up a lot. I need a lot of lights, but my parents
don’t want lights on, so I have to wait for them to go to bed to turn the lights
on. I have nightmares a lot. I worry at night.
Sleep disturbance is common among kids with anxiety,
depression and a variety of other diagnoses. It’s also common among kids not in therapy. Kids today are
overscheduled, under stress and sleeping less than they should. They are, in
fact, sleep deprived.
than a third of the U.S. population is not getting enough sleep, and for
children who are in the critical years of early development, sleep is even more
crucial,” Dr. Nathaniel Watson, 2015-16 president of the American
Academy of Sleep Medicine, said in a recent press release. “Making
sure there is ample time for sleep is one of the best ways to promote a healthy
lifestyle for a child.”
let the words “children” and “early development” stop you from reading this
article if you’ve reached the tween and teen years, though. The new sleep
guidelines developed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is backed by the
American Academy of Pediatrics, and it applies to tweens and teens as well as
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14
hours of sleep, including naps
Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13
hours, including naps
School-age (6-12 years): 9-12
Teens (13-18 years): 8-12
me, I know: You have this, that and the other thing, and sometimes it’s really
hard to log those hours. Besides, you think, they can make up for lost sleep on weekends
and vacations. Right? Wrong. Consistency is essential and just a few lost hours can lead to sleep
deprivation, which comes at a hefty cost to the well-being of your child.
What happens when kids don’t
who don’t log enough sleep hours are at risk for a wide range of physical and
you read that correctly, sleep deprivation in teens is correlated with
increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. In a study of nearly 16,000
teens in grades 7 to 12, researchers
at Columbia University found that adolescents with bedtimes set at midnight
or later were 24 percent more likely to suffer from depression and 20 percent more likely to
have suicidal thoughts.
sleep in teens can impact mood, behavior, school performance and relationships
and can trigger depression. Sleep, as it turns out, is vital to the health and well-being
of our children.
not all bad news in the sleep department. When parents empower kids and teens
to prioritize sleep, the benefits are many. When children get enough sleep per
age on a consistent basis, they enjoy increased attention span, better
behavior, improved relationships, increased emotional regulation, improved
learning and memory, better overall quality of life and increased happiness.
often tell me they feel helpless when their kids struggle. Over and over they
ask me the same question, “How can I help?” My answer always begins with this:
Teach your child how to sleep.
struggle with sleep for a variety of reasons, and it takes patience to help big
kids work through sleep problems. It’s worth it, though, because once they
learn to cope with their own sleep issues and log enough hours, they experience
fewer symptoms of anxiety and stress—and that leads to better sleep.