A Better Night's Sleep for All

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Adequate sleep is associated with fewer behavioural and emotional challenges, greater ability to cope with stress, improved self-regulation and generally feeling more positive. The startling reality is that a recent cross-sectional survey of 3235 Canadian adolescents[3] revealed that 70% get fewer than the recommended number of hours of sleep per night.

In teens, one study showed that behaviours that get labeled as irritable and lazy[1] are often not due to attitude but a lack of sleep. Lack of sleep sometimes doesn’t look like “sleepiness” at all.  In fact sleep deprivation has been reported to mimic attention deficit hyperactivity disorder[2] (ADHD). 

Sleep is strongly linked with a range of physical, mental and emotional aspects of health. A review of the scientific literature[4] “confirms the importance of healthy sleep to human growth and development, metabolism and weight regulation, immune function, accident risk, learning, memory and executive function, and emotional health and regulation.” Paying attention to the quantity and quality of sleep is not just for children and youth. It is a  strategy that brings about Heart-Mind well-being for those who care for children too!

How much sleep is enough?

In their 2012 position statement, the Canadian Sleep Society recommends the following average amount of sleep:

  • Infants: 12-15 hours total, including naps
  • Toddlers (1-3 yrs): 12 hours, including naps
  • Preschool (3-5 yrs): 11.5 hours, most do not nap after age 5
  • School-age (5-12 yrs): 9 hours
  • Teens: 8-9 hours
  • Adults: 6-9 hours

Need more sleep?

Here are some things to increase the chances of a good night’s zzzz:

  1. Try to go to bed at the same time every night.

  2. Don’t drink pop, tea or coffee with caffeine[5] past noon.

  3. Exercise (run, jump and play!) three hours before bed to help get ready for sleep.

  4. Avoid big meals before bed.

  5. Create a bedtime routine to cue you for sleep; e.g. a bath, music, reading, storytelling.

  6. Turn off electronics[6] 2 hours before bed and don’t keep electronics in your bedroom. And remember, no screen time for children under two years[7].

In some cases, a youth's irritability and laziness may not be due to "attitude" but lack of sleep. During adolescence the sleep-wake cycle changes in a way that it becomes more difficult for most teenagers to fall asleep before 11pm. 

The link between sleep and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not completely understood but the consequences of impaired sleep may resemble and/or exacerbate ADHD symptoms. 

The Canadian survey published in 2006 found that sleep deprivation was both common (70%) and was associated with a decrease in academic achievement and extracurricular activity. They found the most common causes to be staying up late and drinking caffeinated beverages before bed.

The Canadian pediatric position paper (2012) outlines:

  • the benefits of sleep and the harmful effects of sleep deprevation in children
  • normal sleep development in children and adolescents
  • pediatric sleep disorders
  • recommendations

Caffeine lingers in the system for 3 to 7 hours. Drinking caffeinated beverages in the afternoon or evening is likely to effect the arousal system even at bedtime, hindering children’s ability to fall asleep.

 The negative effect of night-time media use on sleep duration and quality is the result of: 

  • the use of devices after bedtime at the expense of sleep
  • the strong effect of light exposure that can disrupt the sleep cycle

The Canadian Pediatric Society discourages screen-based activities for all children under the age of two years.

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.