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Feature Article

Skimping on Sleep Is Hazardous

By Vincent Gimino, MD

Sleep is as essential to optimal health as good nutrition and exercise. Simply put, the right amount of quality sleep is as necessary as the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat.

However, problems with sleep are quite common and result in many undesirable effects. The science of sleep tells us that the consequences of inadequate sleep and untreated sleep disorders can no longer be ignored due to the medical, behavioral and public safety impact.

Difficulties with falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, difficulty awakening, daytime sleepiness and snoring can affect children of all ages. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 44 percent of parents/caregivers of school-aged children say their child has experienced one of these sleep related behaviors every day or almost every day, and 70 percent say their child has experienced these behaviors at least a few days a week.

Adolescents, as a group, are probably the sleepiest of our children. Just one in five adolescents sleep an optimal nine hours (and only 45 percent sleep more than eight hours) on school nights. A typical high school senior sleeps just 6.9 hours. Over the course of a week, high school seniors miss nearly 12 hours of needed sleep. This adversely affects their performance at school, happiness at home and safety on the road. As an example, four out of five adolescents who get an optimal amount of sleep say they’re achieving As and Bs in school, while adolescents who get insufficient amounts of sleep are more likely to get lower grades. Just as shocking is the fact that 55 percent of fall-asleep crashes involve drivers 25 years of age or younger.

How does a parent know a sleep problem exists? Recognizing these red flags can be an indicator their child isn’t getting an adequate quantity or quality of sleep:

  • Do they have to wake the child for school, and is it difficult to do so?
  • Is the child sleeping two hours later or more on weekends than on school nights?
  • Has a teacher mentioned that the child is sleepy/tired during the day?
  • Does the child rely on caffeinated beverages in the morning to wake up or to stay awake during the day?
  • Does he/she nap for more than 45 minutes regularly?

Parents/caregivers also need to be on the lookout for sleep disorders. Snoring is distinctly abnormal in children and may be a manifestation of obstructive sleep apnea, a more serious sleep related breathing disorder that results in poor sleep quality. Other signs of sleep apnea include gasping, choking or coughing sounds; the child who is a sweaty or restless sleeper; or the child who sleeps with their neck overextended.

Let’s not forget that parents need enough sleep themselves for their own health, safety and well- being and so that their children have good role models who make sleep a priority. Start by setting a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule (even on the weekends) so that everyone can achieve the right amount of sleep every night. Make sure the sleep environment is sound and that the bedtime includes a relaxing routine. Avoidance of caffeine throughout the day and minimizing screen time (television, handheld games, computers, etc.) in the evenings are essential. In preparation for the school year, many of these changes need to be implemented at least two to three weeks before school starts so students can hit the ground running.

For many reasons it is important to prioritize sleep for all family members – for children and the adults who care for them. Let’s make sure that all of us make sure to get the right amount of quality sleep so we can all perform our best this year. 

Dr. Gimino is a specialist in sleep disorders, pulmonary medicine and critical care at The Corvallis Clinic and Samaritan Sleep Disorders Center. He sees both adult and pediatric patients in Corvallis and Albany