Held in September, Student Sleep Health Week drives awareness of the importance of healthy sleep for students of all ages to learn, grow and thrive.
This year, sleep experts took to Reddit to answer questions about healthy sleep in kids and teens during Student Sleep Health Week.
Members of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s Public Awareness Advisory Committee responded to the “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) thread on Reddit. Seema Khosla, MD; Anne Marie Morse, DO; and John Saito, MD, answered more than a dozen questions.
Continue reading to see the top questions and answers from the Reddit AMA.
Do I need more sleep if I engage in physical activities like sports or difficult mental tasks such as studying for hours? Or do I always need the same amount of sleep?
John Saito, MD (MySleepMD): Sleep is good for the body and the brain down to the cellular level. While there are many facets to this, consider sleep as a time that our brain uses to more efficiently remove the metabolic waste products our brain cells generate during our waking hours.
Here is an analogy that I use with my patients: Think of your brain as a bustling city. Trash is generated daily. The sanitation system runs more efficiently at night because the trash is put out and there’s less traffic.
Let’s say that your sanitation system needs 9 hours to effectively remove the trash from your city. What happens when you only give it 5 hours? Further, what happens after the city has a parade and you only give the sanitation system 5 hours for trash removal?
The answer is obvious … Trash accumulates and becomes toxic to the city. Over time, this toxic trash clogs the sidewalks and then the streets, resulting in the city’s functional efficiency progressively declining.
Similarly, when we are overtaxing our brain cells, we need to give them more time to detoxify during sleep. In fact, science shows that this detoxification process is much more efficient during sleep.
In sum, individual needs can vary but we have general guidelines on sleep duration in children (children 6-12 years of age should sleep 9-12 hours per 24 hours and teenagers 13-18 years of age should sleep 8-10 hours per 24 hours) to reduce risk of insufficient sleep.
What’s the best way to get kids back on a sleep schedule on Monday if they get thrown off for a night or two on weekends due to travel? Is it better to let them nap throughout the day or is consistency more important?
Seema Khosla, MD (FargoSleepDoc): Great question! Like everything else, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Consistency is important but if they are struggling to stay awake, napping is OK. It might be best to let them sleep in but to make sure they are awake for a few hours before their normal bedtime so that they can fall asleep on time.
If this is a routine thing, it is OK to have a plan ready to go. This might look like sleeping for a few hours, getting up and active, and then going to bed a little earlier than their normal time. It’s OK to have a sleep strategy ahead of time and adjust it to make it work better for you.
While they may not hit their target amount of sleep every single night, having a plan in place will help them to get the right amount of sleep overall when we average it out over a few days. They could also pre-sleep — meaning that they get a little more sleep up until the time of their event so the sleep tank is full!
I have a daughter who has sleep apnea. We have traveled for overnight observations and, ultimately, she struggles with maintaining REM sleep. Any suggestions?
Seema Khosla, MD (FargoSleepDoc): Oh goodness — it’s hard when our little ones don’t sleep! If she is on treatment for her sleep apnea, it may need to be adjusted. As children get older, their sleep apnea may change and require adjustments. For some people, their sleep apnea can get worse in REM sleep and can make it hard to stay in REM sleep. Sometimes taking another look at their sleep while on treatment can help the sleep clinicians make adjustments that may be helpful. You may wish to talk to your daughter’s sleep team.
Can you weigh in on the baby sleep training controversy? There are so many different opinions about whether it’s safe and healthy to sleep train a baby and so many fake experts. Should parents help their babies learn to sleep? And if so, is there a recommended method?
Anne Marie Morse, DO (DAMMGoodSleep): I agree this can be quite challenging to navigate, especially as new parents who frequently are sleep deprived. The first and foremost thing that is most important is making sure that you have a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. The bedtime routine helps a child develop an association of sleep with those activities making it easier for them to transition to sleep.
When thinking about sleep training you are right there are several approaches that can be used. The one most are familiar with is the “cry it out” method, also known as the extinction method. This involves putting the baby down in their crib when drowsy and not yet asleep, then leaving the room. If the child cries you should not go back in for a pre-designated time limit (10 mins, 15 mins, etc.). When you go back in you can use verbal reassurance and some soft touch with the child but not pick the child up. Once they are consoled you can again leave the room and repeat. The first night is usually the worst, but it gets better over time. Modified versions of this allow you to stay in the room and progressively move further away from the child over time. The goal is to help the child develop skills to self-soothe. You can also check out babysleep.com for additional information.
These responses have been edited for brevity. Visit the Reddit AMA thread to see all the questions and responses about healthy sleep in students.
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Learn more about healthy sleep in teens and healthy sleep in children.