Between after-school soccer practice and early morning swim meets, parents of active children may be exhausted.
But what about the kids themselves? Children involved in too many extracurricular activities may be low on sleep — and that can hurt them during the school year.
“Sleep really needs to be protected,” says Andrea Loewen Nair, a parenting expert and co-founder of London, Ont.-based Infinity School.
“When you’re not sleeping well enough and you don’t feel well, it affects every part of your life.”
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According to Robina Uddin, a parenting and sleep coach at Nanny Robina, extracurricular activities can be the cause of late bedtimes — especially if they run into the evening.
“If a child then goes to bed and misses the holy window of sleep, they can possibly get a second wind, resulting in actually falling asleep at a much later time, too,” Uddin said.
“They need downtime, just like you and I.”
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Loewen Nair says elementary school-aged kids really need their sleep. The Hospital for Sick Children says kids from the age of five to 10 need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep a night.
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When kids don’t get enough rest, they can act in ways that are unlike themselves.
Loewen Nair says she’s worked with clients who were concerned with their child’s behaviour and discovered they were acting out because they were doing too many activities.
Another common telltale sign a child is low on sleep is when they have a hard time getting out of bed.
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Other symptoms of low sleep include forgetfulness, frequent yawning, irritability, crying easily and frustration.
What’s more, if your child says they are too tired to go to guitar lessons or gymnastics, they could be overloaded. Listen to their cues — parents often know when their child has had enough, Loewen Nair said.
What happens when kids lack sleep
Not only is a child’s behaviour affected by a lack of sleep, so is their ability to perform in school.
One 2016 study showed a child’s developing brain regions are “hardest hit by sleep deprivation.” Another study found poor sleep was tied to lower academic performance.
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“Research shows that having a clear mind is worth more than sometimes studying,” Loewen Nair said. “Being able to think requires a good amount of rest.”
Loewen Nair says children who have packed schedules can also experience social repercussions. If kids are so busy running between lessons and clubs that they don’t have enough time to see family and friends, their relationships can suffer.
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“Quality dinner together, homework and free play time should not take a backseat to extracurriculars,” she said. “Balance is key.”
Extracurriculars are an important part of many children’s lives, and they offer invaluable skills. Research shows partaking in sports has physical, social and psychological benefits for children.
That being said, kids can suffer when they are exhausted.
Loewen Nair says it’s important for parents to weigh the pros and cons of extracurricular activities: does your child enjoy them? Do they work with your schedule? Does your kid have time for homework?
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If your child can manage soccer twice a week and gets enough rest, this may be the right amount for them. On the flip side, if your child is signed up for several activities and is burning out, scale back.
On top of maintaining academics, it’s also important to ensure your child has enough time for the other things they enjoy. When extracurriculars take over another aspect of a child’s life, Uddin says it may be time to reevaluate.
Uddin suggests parents draw up schedules that incorporate all of their children’s daily activities. That way, you can see how much more your kid can handle.
“Add homework, dinner, free play time (free play time is not TV or screen time), then add an age-appropriate bedtime,” she said. “Now decide what kind of time you have to incorporate for extracurriculars.”
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Boundaries are also key, Loewen Nair said. Parents should have rules around how late their child can stay out. For example, if your kid’s bedtime is 9 p.m., you may not let them partake in an activity that runs past 7 p.m.
Children also should enjoy the activities they are partaking in. If they are thrilled to run to singing class, it’s a good sign they are enjoying it.
“They have to be willing to go and make the effort to go every day, every single time,” Loewen Nair said.
“If they become unfriendly and frustrated, then you know that they’re too tired.”