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Tired Child? How School & Sleep Impact Kids’ Mental Health

mental healthcovid-19parentschildrensleepback-to-schoolNewsletter • 3 min read • Aug 13, 2021 12:00:00 AM • Written by: Kat Smith

Does heading back to school seem to have your child constantly moody, unfocused, or seeming down? It’s not just teenage or adolescent angst—they could be experiencing sleep deprivation that is damaging their mental and physical health. School schedules are demanding; paired with the normal social stressors of youth and the added pressure of the pandemic, your child’s schedule may not leave them with enough time and mental space to get adequate, restful sleep.

If your child seems to be struggling with sleep, they’re not alone. A 2015 study from the CDC showed that about 60% of middle school students and 70% of high school students weren’t getting enough sleep on school nights. And younger students aren’t exempt from sleep deprivation. A different study from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicated that about 60% of adolescents aged 6-17 were getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night. Even more troubling, this lack of sleep was linked with decreased childhood flourishing, which is a measurement of how children approach learning and overall behavioral and social well-being.

How much sleep do children need?

Children need more sleep than adults.

  • Between ages 6 and 12, children need about 9-12 hours of sleep per night.
  • Teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night.

What are the signs of sleep deprivation in children and teens?

Especially with older children, it may be tough to know exactly how much sleep they’re getting at night and assess the quality of their sleep. However, there are some common indicators that a child or teen isn’t sleeping enough. They may show a disinterest in schoolwork and social activities, be increasingly irritable or moody, fail to complete required homework and chores at home, or exhibit behavioral issues at school (including falling asleep in class).

What’s the link between sleep duration and mental health?

Mental health issues are often overlooked in children, but depression, anxiety, and other conditions may be diagnosed in children as young as 5 or 6. Sleep deprivation is one common indicator of depression in kids and teens, and it may be influenced by other factors as well. For example, stress and anxiety can be significant contributors to sleep problems. Another big challenge for kids is an overabundance of screen time, which may be harder to avoid in the era of digital classrooms.

When considering why a child is not getting adequate sleep, it’s important to think about the bigger picture. Problems at home, bullying, and stress related to school and afterschool jobs can all influence a child’s wellbeing and their ability to get enough sleep at night. With the uncertainty of the pandemic on top of preexisting stressors, more kids and teens are currently experiencing mental and physical health problems.

How can parents help?

If you notice that your child is having trouble sleeping, it’s important to talk to them about what’s going on in their lives. You might also encourage better sleep hygiene with the following guidelines:

  • Help children get daily physical activity. Exercising as a family can help every member of the family stay in good shape. 
  • Avoid screen time three hours prior to bedtime (including watching TV). Keep computers and mobile devices out of your child’s room.
  • Discourage napping during the day for older children.
  • Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon.
  • Create a consistent, predictable nighttime and morning schedule for your household.

Talk therapy can also help. MeMD offers adolescent and teen therapy for individuals from ages 10-17. Parents can schedule a teletherapy visit for their child and connect with a licensed therapist in as little as 24 hours.

Reach the World. Giving Made Easy with Impact.

Kat Smith