Sleep: Vital for Your Child’s Learning and Health
Every parent, at one point or another, has experienced a grumpy, uncooperative child who hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep. Changes in mood and behavior are the most noticeable symptoms of sleep deprivation, but rest also plays a vital role in your child’s learning ability and overall health.
We’ve long known that sleep affects the brain. It’s during sleep that the brain performs pruning and strengthening of pathways in the brain. Frequently used brain connections are strengthened while those that aren’t used are pruned to keep messages moving as quickly as possible. During sleep deprivation, neurons in the brain slow down, resulting in delayed reasoning abilities, decision-making skills, and reaction times. That alone will affect a child’s ability to pay attention and retain information in a school setting, but sleep deprivation hurts memory too.
Without adequate rest, children, who are far more busy learning and making new connections than adults, suffer because their brain doesn’t have time to prune and strengthen as it needs to. Consequently, school-age children who don’t get enough sleep have trouble with complex tasks, test performance, and behavior.
Beyond learning and academic performance, overall health takes a hit too. The brain alters the release of the appetite-controlling hormones ghrelin and leptin, releasing them in differing amounts so that children and adults alike experience more hunger and delayed satiety response when tired. Overeating and unwanted weight gain are typical for the chronically sleep deprived, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and blood pressure problems.
The amount of sleep your child needs depends on his age. If you’re unsure of how much sleep your child needs the Center for Disease Control recommends:
Ages 3-5: 10-13 hours
Ages 6-12: 9-12 hours
Ages 13-18: 8-10 hours
You can help your child get better sleep for improved health, learning, and happiness by helping him develop healthy sleep habits. It starts by making sure his bedroom is set up for optimal sleep conditions. Check his mattress to make sure there are no lumps or saggy spots. Consider a memory foam mattress or topper as a soft option or latex as a firmer option. Keep the bedroom quiet and cool at night with the temperature between 60-68 degrees.
Try to keep the bedroom dark. Light affects the release of melatonin. Your child’s body relies on exposure to sunlight to set a regular sleep-wake cycle. Make sure your child’s room is completely dark at night to support a healthy cycle. That may mean blackout curtains and dim light bulbs in overhead lights.
You can also support better sleep by:
Turning Off Screens Early: Bright blue light from televisions or smartphones suppresses the release of melatonin. Try to shut off screens at least an hour before bed.
Establishing a Bedtime Routine: The body loves routines as they can help signal the brain when to start the release of sleep hormones. A good bedtime routine should help your child relax and calm down for the evening. A warm bath, book, or quiet music can all be part of a healthy bedtime routine.
Keeping a Consistent Bedtime: Like a routine, a consistent bedtime helps the brain know when to start the sleep cycle. It also makes sure that your child has the best opportunity to get the right amount of sleep. Keeping the same bedtime is just as important on weekends as it is on weekdays so try to keep their schedule consistent.
Guest Article by : Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.