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More and more children are experiencing sleep deprivation

It may be the trappings of our high tech age, or the modernity of our changes in lifestyle or it may be both, but a growing number of children are experiencing sleep deprivation, according to Dr Rachel Salas, of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Dr Salas spoke with Body & Soul for this article. She said in the four years she’s been at Johns Hopkins’ Sleep Disorders Center, she’s noticed a growing trend of teenagers and young adults with circadian rhythm problems.

These are young people that are sleep deprived because their body’s natural sleep and wake rhythm have gone off kilter.

While there are no statistics for lack of sleep in children in Bermuda, sleep deprivation is considered enough of a concern locally that the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital is working on opening a sleep clinic this year.

Dr Salas believes that technology, coupled with increased loads of homework are partly to blame.

“Children are having such loaded schedules, with homework, extracurricular activities and social activities. It’s biting into their sleep time,” she said.

And she noted that the way we live our lives is increasingly blurring when we should be going to sleep and when we should be awake.

We can do almost anything we need to 24 hours a day thanks to computers and the Internet. So we’re always on, she said. And she noted that we tend to come home, put on relaxing clothes and watch TV or videos or use the Internet or other electronic device.

“Even when they are off (electronic devices), the blue light on them suppresses the production of melatonin in the body,” she said. Melatonin is a natural hormone that signals the brain for the body to sleep.

“Everything is open,” she said, “so the brain does not get the cues of when bedtime is. People have moved away from sleep routines. Nobody puts on pyjamas anymore; they fall asleep in the comfy sweats or T-shirts they changed into when they came home. And they don’t go to bed at the same time every night,” she added.

She said it’s important for people to consistently get enough sleep and having a routine helps.

A local mother, who asked not to be named, agreed. A mother of four, she said her children’s bedtimes are maintained year-round, school in or school out.

“They need routine,” she said. “It’s important to us that we give that to our children. Our youngest is so entrenched that she cannot stay up beyond her bedtime. She will fall asleep at eight even when she wants to stay up longer.”

On school nights this mother does not allow any of her children, three of which are teenagers, to watch TV.

“They can watch the news but nothing after that,” she said.

Being strict with their bedtime ensures they are well rested, she said. “They may not be asleep right on curfew but they are in bed and resting,” she added.

According to Dr Salas this goes a long way to helping them actually sleep. She said the most important thing to do in resetting or maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is to 1) have a consistent bedtime which you maintain even on weekends and holidays and 2) cut out electronics an hour before bedtime or if that is not possible at least 30 minutes before going to bed.

“The sun is the biggest clock re-setter so if you get up and have breakfast by a sunny window that will help,” she said.

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Published September 13, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 13, 2011 at 9:38 am)

More and more children are experiencing sleep deprivation

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