South Charlotte

Back to school, back to sleep

With the start of school, parents need to add an important item to their list of duties: checking on your kids' sleep health.

Dr. Jeannine Gingras, who is board-certified in pediatrics and an internationally recognized expert in sleep disorders, is on a mission this time of year to alert parents to what they should look for.

"Sleep is not a luxury, it's a health necessity," said Gingras, whose Gingras Sleep Medicine office is in SouthPark. She says keeping a watchful eye on your children's sleep is as important to their overall health as the food they eat and the exercise they get.

A child's sleep not only is important to the child, it's important to the entire family.

Gingras suggests children ages 5-10 get 10 hours of sleep a night; ages 11-13 get 9.5 hours; and ages 13 and older get 9.2 hours.

Gingras says that when kids become teenagers, they experience a "circadian shift," meaning they do not get sleepy until about 11 p.m. Most high schools begin before 7:30 a.m., and some kids are getting up at 5 a.m. to primp for school or take long bus rides.

The sleep amounts for these students don't add up, said Gingras.

Fatigue is not the only - or often even the most noticeable - effect of lack of sleep. Many children not getting enough sleep sometimes exhibit symptoms that mimic attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"Elementary-school-aged kids who are sleep-deprived are not sleepy during the day: They're hyperactive, poorly behaved, have mood swings and have poor memory and attention spans. They may also be obese," said Gingras.

Middle and high school-age children may exhibit daytime sleepiness, seem as if they are in a perpetual funk or even become depressed if they are not getting enough rest.

Sleep apnea, insomnia, snoring, sleepwalking and restless-leg syndrome are a few of the disorders that might prevent a child from getting quality sleep time.

Children suspected of having a sleep disorder should be assessed by a medical professional, said Gingras.

With the onset of a new school year, take the time to peek in at your sleeping children and assess the quality of their sleep. Monitoring their sleep may give you new insight into their daytime temperament and performance.