August 1, 2013 – Lack of sleep can be problematic for both parents and children. Parents who are tired and frustrated might not be able to focus on the tasks at hand or think logically in the best interest of their children. Becoming short-tempered can cause even more angst within the family unit. While sleep problems are normal, they cannot rule your life.
If your school age children are not sleeping regularly it can affect their academic performance, physical growth, and development. Some children need less sleep than others do but if your children are having trouble getting up in the morning then they’re not getting enough sleep.
Researchers at the University College of London, U.K., completed a study that was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health wherein they examined data on bedtimes and cognitive scores for 11,178 children. Their research found that when three-year-old children had a regular bedtime they performed better on cognitive tests administered at the age seven than children whose bedtimes were inconsistent.
Researchers suggest that children who have inconsistent bedtimes will have cognitive developmental difficulties caused by the disruption of circadian rhythms. While sleep experts focus largely on how much sleep children are getting, insufficient sleep and inconsistent bedtimes both affect cognitive development through different mechanisms.
The research study found one piece of analytical data that took them by great surprise. Whether children went to bed early or late did not affect their cognitive skills as long as the bedtime was consistent either way. The internal clock in the brain and the body like to have consistency every day.
Researchers noted that inconsistent sleep patterns were associated with lower academic scores; therefore, it is easy to come to the conclusion that a consistent pattern of sleep behaviour plays a very important role in your child's academic success. Children that skip breakfast or have a television in their bedroom will influence bedtime and cognitive development as well.
School aged children from kindergarten through to eighth grade should get about 10 hours of sleep and three to four year old children might need 11 to 13 hours of sleep including daytime naps.
If you create a consistent bedtime for your children at a very young age, then their sleeping pattern will become a regular habit. A 15 minute routine before bedtime will help the transition from an alert to a quiet and serene state.
Researchers suggest that bedtimes during weekends and the summer months should only stray from the normal bedtime by an hour or less so that your child's internal clock remains in sync with the brain.
Why Sleep is So Important for Your Growing Children
- Hormone levels that regulate fullness and hunger will be altered in children that do not receive the appropriate hours of sleep and therefore they may gain weight.
- Growth hormone is secreted during slow wave sleep.
- Insufficient sleep is associated with a higher incidence of behavioural problems, especially attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Sleep invigorates the brain.
- Disrupted sleep caused by snoring children delays development.
- Night terrors and arousals become more intense when a child is sleep deprived.
- What your children learn during the day comes together coherently and cohesively during slow wave sleep; therefore, the knowledge they require, can be accessed when needed.
- Rapid eye movement (REM) is the stage of sleep when children have their most vivid dreams and it is also an important time for the elimination of unessential memories. If a child is learning how to ride a bicycle and falls off the first ten times but is successful on the eleventh try, the memory of how to successfully stay on the bicycle is the memory that will be retained. Memories of when your child fell of the bicycle will be removed.
- Children that suffer from poor sleep caused by sleep apnea will improve their school performance and aptitude once it has been successfully treated.
- When children have good sleeping patterns, their parent's sleep also improves.
'Why Sleep is so Important for your Growing Children' was resourced from Psychology Today.
Does your child struggle with sleep at night? Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids, a Harvard Medical School Guide, offers you the latest discoveries science has made in the field of sleep, and dozens of proven and effective ways to help your child get a better night's sleep and therefore, more refreshed and alert during the day. Topics in this book include:
- Avoiding exposure to common (yet surprising) things that wake your child's brain and make it harder to fall asleep
- How spending too much time in bed can disrupt your child's sleep
- Training your child to fall asleep on his/her own - and in his/her own bed
- Why letting your sleep-deprived child sleep in late on the weekends can be a really bad idea
- Preventing sleepwalking, night terrors, and bed-wetting