The more research that is done the more people realize a child’s sleep is essential to their learning and their behavior. Many children have poor sleep habits or have issues such as snoring that disrupts sleep during the years when the child’s brain is developing. We are told it is okay if they snore or you are told that they need to take medications to treat the symptoms. What your child might actually need is a sleep study.
The newest studies say that snoring in children can be an early indication of learning disabilities. Poor sleep has also been linked to inattentiveness, irritability or poor memory. These symptoms may sound familiar to some parents. Evaluating your child’s sleep can be very easy.
You start with keeping a sleep diary to see how much sleep your child is getting. You should also include any out of the ordinary activities and their caffeine intake. It is easier to see if there is an issue when you have something concrete to look at. This can be done on a simple piece of paper or you can download a sleep diary for free from the internet.
Consider the age of your child. Children need different amounts of sleep depending on their age. It can also change depending on whether or not they are getting ready to grow. Since growth hormone is produced predominantly during sleep a child who is about to have a significant growth spurt will want to sleep more often and for longer periods of time?
Listen to your child. If they can not make it until bedtime without a significant meltdown than maybe bedtime is too late or maybe they need a short afternoon nap. A school age child might benefit from a 20 minute nap when they get home from school to help them to recharge. They may not need to take a nap all the time but they may need it because they are growing physically or they are learning a great deal and their brain may need to rest so they can process everything they learned.
Create a good sleep environment for your child. Their bedroom should not be cluttered and there should be minimal light prior to bed. The computer, television and cell phone can disrupt the brain’s ability to produce Melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it is time to sleep, and keep you from falling asleep in a timely manner.
Remember that you are in charge. Children will naturally see your request for them to go to bed as something to challenge. It is up to you to set the limits needed for them to grow and learn. Once they see there is no arguing, a hard lesson for us parents to learn, they will understand it is bedtime and will stop arguing.
In the end we all want what is best for our children and for them to be successful at school. The best thing we can do for them is to teach them that sleep is an essential part of their life and that they can use it as a tool to be healthy and to be successful in school.
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An article was released about teens and the effects of caffeine and technology is having an effect of teens and their sleep. I know I live this issue daily. I have a teen son and a daughter who is just in her 20s. The problem is that we have not created a culture that supports teens and their needs.
This article was timely as this week my son took his yearly standardized tests. He has to get up at 6am to get ready for school so he can arrive just before 7am. He will then sit in the testing room he is assigned to and will take a test that will determine his future. Of course what they are not thinking about as these students enter the school is that more then half of the students walk on campus with an energy drink, diet soda or Starbucks in their hand. They are all yawning, dragging their feet and look like they could use two more hours of sleep. When they normally attend class at least 3-4 of the students will want to put their head down during at the very least 1 period. These are not fresh, excited students. These are sleep deprived people that our culture is trying to get to fit into a cheapest easiest way to give them an education. We have not created an education that is designed for them to become successful educated individuals that can perform at their optimum.
Add to this early more education some new parts to our culture. Their diets include processed food, chemical substances, and stimulants like caffeine. They are exposed to light 24 hours a day and their brains are stimulated from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. They are in the computer, playing video games or watching television. They have 2-3 hours of homework they need to do when they come home. They also have outside activities. Things like my son’s Boy Scout meeting will last from 7-10:30 at night. We have not set them up for optimal sleep we have set them up to be sleep deprived.
It is difficult to tell a 5’10” boy that it is bed time at 9 or 10 pm. The world has not stopped or even slowed down by then. He still has homework he wants to tweak, friends to chat with or challenge on a game, or just wants to watch a show he knows everyone will be talking about at school the next day. He gets tired around 11-12pm and is sound asleep no later then 1am. On the weekend he sleeps until 11am and sometimes a little longer. His friends are the same way.
I believe that we have to look at what our children need, how to create a healthy environment for them and then nurture that. Is sending our children to school at 7am really in their best interest? One of the local school districts changed the time for the high school children from 7 to 9. Next year they are changing it back because it interferes with after school work and activities. Did they even bother to look at the student’s attendance, grades or test results? They did not.
So what is the result of sleep deprivation with our teens? It is multifold, sleep deprivation can increase the incidence of depression, increase the symptoms of ADD, increase the chances of obesity. It interferes with learning and storing information into long term memory.
Now we need to explain to our teens why a sleep routine, turning off all electronics and going to bed early I so important. We need to overcome peer pressure so that our children understand that this is the norm. We need to be examples for them. We need a very strong sleep routine that includes turning off the computer and the television. We need to make time for the family to sit and eat together and read together. These changes will help them during the tough teen years. We need to help them reach their true potential.