Most of us know how important sleep is to anyone … without enough sleep and without enough quality sleep, you can find yourself with sleep deprivation or deficiency. You may not be sleeping soundly, and you may not be getting into the different types of sleep everyone needs (think REM sleep and dreaming – essential to our overall health). Sleep is a basic human need – not just for our physical bodies, but also for our mental health.
But this is about your children and teens. Children ages 6 to 12 years need 9 to 12 hours, and teens 13 to 18 need 8 to 10 hours of good quality sleep according to authorities. (The average teen only gets 7 to 7.5 hours.) However, for teens, their natural sleep hormone melatonin is produced later at night, so they have a harder time falling asleep at a reasonable time. Since they must usually get up early for school, they may have trouble concentrating and get lower grades. If they are driving, they may be drowsy while doing so. They may experience anxiety and depression as a result – they may even have thoughts of suicide. As for younger children, starting as early as 3 months of age, higher levels of melatonin are produced at night, and lower levels are secreted during the daytime. In spite of this, up to 25% of healthy children have insomnia, and for those kids with neurodevelopmental and psychological disorders, about 75% experience insomnia. Kids also have trouble focusing, they are often hyperactive, irritable, have poor memories, feel anxious and depressed, and experience learning difficulties which are reflected in their school performance.
Everybody – including kids and teens – needs vitamin D (we get this from exposure to the sun or in supplements). Also, it may be helpful to take iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, B vitamins, valerian, vitamin E, chamomile, and the amino acid theanine. Work with a competent health care professional if you want to supplement with melatonin (even though you can purchase it over the counter). Don’t forget to nix the soda, cakes, cookies, over-reliance on bread and pasta, etc. So, make sure you help your kids and teens dial back on the junk food. Also – read labels of products you purchase for your children – added chemicals for preserving or any other reason may be detrimental for their overall health, including their sleep patterns. If you want to purchase gummy vitamins please be aware that there is usually a significant amount of sugar in them, so these may not be the best choice.
However, if you improve the quality of their diets, especially in the salad and veggie department, you may be able to get most of these supplemental assists from the food itself!
Other tips for improving sleep in kids and teens are to turn off all screens (phones, tablets, computers, televisions, etc.) at an earlier hour, make sure kids and teens get enough exercise, avoid eating close to bedtime, ensure bedrooms are dark (use dark out curtains if need be), maintain a regular sleep schedule, avoid afternoon naps (or at least limit them to 15-20 minutes) as kids start getting older, limit caffeine intake (think chocolate, colas, coffee, etc.) and especially don’t eat or drink them at night. They’re stimulants! When summer break is coming to an end, and before school starts, start setting an earlier-to-bed schedule.
If your child or teen seems troubled, and especially if they’re not talking to you about it, don’t hesitate to try some mental health counseling. You, as parents, can also take a look at your parenting style and see if you can improve your skills which may help your kids even more.
As always – have a happy, holistically healthy day!
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Dr. Donna Poppendieck (Dr. P) has over 30 years of experience in the mental health care field. She is a seasoned college professor and instructor for providers. She uses credible, proven holistic health strategies in instruction for parents of children with mental health challenges looking for another approach as well as healthcare providers seeking to implement or understand holistic strategies.