As adults, we know the importance of sleep and how bad we feel when we don’t get enough of it. But kids don’t quite get this and are constantly engaged in a battle with their parents to be up later and sleep less. While giving in to them and letting them have the odd late night isn’t going to have a serious impact, consistently not getting enough sleep has been connected with a number of other problems as well as declining results at school. But are your kids getting enough sleep?
Importance of sleep on education
Everyone needs a different amount of sleep and the activities of the day can also have an effect on this. There are also two types of sleep – NREM and REM. NREM sleep, or non-rapid eye movement is also called quiet sleep and this is where the energy levels are restored, the body works on any repairs that are needed and the hormones controlling growth and development are sent out into the body. The other type, REM or rapid eye movement sleep is known as active sleep – this is the time when we dream and our brains are active but at the same time, our bodies are immobile with both breathing and heart rates being irregular.
A baby spends around half of their sleep times in each of these states and each sleep time is around 50 minutes long. By the age of six months, REM sleep accounts for around 30% of the sleep time and by preschool age, this sleep time reaches around 90 minutes at a time.
As a general rule, for the first two months of life, a baby needs anywhere from 10 to 18 hours sleep a night. From two to twelve months, this levels out to 14-15 hours and between one and three years, this falls to 12-14 hours. Once they reach three to five years, around 12 hours is about right while in junior school years from five to twelve, 10 or 11 hours will normally suffice.
Sleep becomes even more important when kids reach school age. A good night’s sleep ensures they can pay better attention at school, be more creative and even come up with new ideas in class. They will be better at solving problems and more sociable with other kids and adults. They can even fight off illness better. On the turn side, if they don’t sleep enough, they are liable to forget what they learn, be bad tempered and lack the energy to play games or sports. They won’t have any patience with others and their attention span will suffer.
One of the big tips for a good night sleep for younger kids is to have a good sleep routine. This means that kids know what to expect, what is going to happen and when they will be going to sleep. One example from the Sleep For Kids website is along the lines of:
- Have supper, a light snack
- Take a bath or shower then put in pyjamas or other sleepwear
- Brush teeth
- Read a story in a room that is quiet and at a comfortable temperature
- Put the child into bed, say goodnight and leave the room
Repeat this routine each night and avoid watching TV or videos just before they go into the routine. This is shown to make going to sleep more difficult so ensure they do something non-stimulating before bed.
Don’t use bed as a negative, telling them they are going to bed if they don’t do or stop doing something – this makes going to bed a bad thing and will make them want to find ways not to do it. Also, try to show that everyone in the house is getting ready for bed as kids often want to stay up for fear of missing out on something. If they think everyone else is getting ready for bed, this can lessen the urge to find ways to stay downstairs and awake.
Some myths about sleeping are also examined on the website. These include that you should wait until your child is fully asleep before leaving the room – in fact, the best time is when they are drowsy. Also, if you go to the room every time they wake, this encourages the connections between sleeping and your presence, meaning they won’t be able to go to sleep without you present. Similarly, getting into bed with them for them to doze off is another bad idea as it also creates a connection in their minds. Another idea is that a nap stops them sleeping at night but in children under two, this isn’t the truth as a nap can actually help them sleep at night as they are a little less tired.
As much as one third of junior age kids experience a sleep disorder of some form and there are clear signs to watch for. Nightmares are one of the most common and happen most frequently at times of stress or change in their lives. They happen late at night and can be remembered the next day but usually stop naturally. Talking about the nightmare can help dispel it as can avoiding TV before bed.
Sleep terrors or sleepwalking is most common from the age of four to eight. These happen early at night and often kids have no memory of it the next day. Waking them doesn’t always help but making sure the room is safe is important so that they don’t hurt themselves.
Sleep apnoea is a more serious condition that sees children pause their breathing while asleep. Signs include snoring loudly, restless sleep and being tired during the day. A range of problems can cause it including allergies, weight problems, enlarged tonsils or adenoids. If you think your child may suffer with this, speak to your doctor.
Narcolepsy tends to appear in puberty but as young as ten years old. These kids experienced excessive daytime sleepiness and ‘sleep attacks’ where they fall asleep uncontrollably. Again, if you think you child may suffer with this condition, speak to your doctor for advice.
Image by John Doe