Checking the phone at the bedroom door

Are your kids getting enough sleep? Are you sure?

Many kids aren’t. And parents are often surprised to learn how little sleep they’re getting when we actually put a device that measures their sleep patterns on their wrists and send them home.

Electronic devices of all kinds — cell phones, TVs, video game devices, laptops, iPads — can be a major distraction at night when kids should be sleeping. Parents often are blissfully unaware because the bedroom door is closed and the room seems quiet.

Cell phones especially can be a big distraction at bedtime for older kids and teens. My own family has a house rule that the kids’ cell phones remain outside the bedroom during sleep time (they get them back in the morning). When I first started collecting them, I was pretty surprised at the number of text messages my son was getting from friends late into the night and into the morning. It would be hard for anyone to sleep through all those chirps and buzzes when a text message arrives.

My recommendation is that toys and electronics be kept in a family room, rather than in bedrooms. Bedrooms are for sleep, and sleep is best accomplished when the room is dark, quiet and distraction-free.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends how much sleep children should get at various ages:

  • Infants 4-12 months — 12-16 hours including naps
  • Toddlers 1-2 years — 11-14 hours including naps
  • Preschoolers 3-5 years — 10-13 hours including naps
  • Grade schoolers 6-12 years — 9-12 hours
  • Teens 13-18 years — 8-10 hours

It’s not just that a child gets cranky after too little sleep. It can ultimately lead to a variety of health problems. A drowsy teenager who drives to school is at higher risk of crashing.

Even positive behavior can lead to too little sleep. Kids pulling all-nighters to study before tests or doing homework well into the night are as much at risk of injury from drowsiness as a child who stays up watching videos or playing games. Help your children manage their time so they start their homework with enough time to finish it by bedtime.

A good night’s sleep will actually help your child be a better student. We treat quite a few children with sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that interferes with sleep. A father of one of my patients knows when his child is using his CPAP — a device that uses continuous air pressure to improve apnea. His child gets better grades in school when he wears his device, the father told me. When he doesn’t, his grades suffer — all due to the quality of sleep he’s getting.

Dr. Karen Hentschel-Franks is a pediatric sleep medicine specialist at UT Health San Antonio who heads the Pediatric Sleep Lab and Clinic at University Health System.