Babies and toddlers are well-known, even expected, to have sleep problems. However, many school-age children still struggle to get a full night’s rest.
Research has shown that over 20 percent of school-age children struggle to fall and stay asleep. Lack of sleep affects children’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, which, in turn, affects their academic and social success. Helping your child develop good sleep habits can improve the quality (and quantity) of her sleep.
Sleep Deprivation’s Effects on the Mind and Body
The human body, child, and adult, undergoes changes during sleep deprivation. The prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for executive functions, concentration, and attention, becomes less active during sleep deprivation. At the same time, the amygdala, which processes emotions becomes over-sensitive to negative stimuli and thoughts. Consequently, not only are sleep deprived children going to have trouble staying on task, they’re more likely to act out.
Sleep also plays an important role in memory and recall. It helps the brain make connections between new and old experiences and also protect and adapt information for future use. Poor sleep has also been shown to delay the recall of memories from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex. In an academic setting, memory changes make it difficult to adapt, learn, and improve.
Improve Academic Performance with Better Sleep Habits
While some children may suffer from sleep disorders that require medical intervention, most childhood sleep problems show improvement with good sleep habits. A study published in Sleep Medicine found that children’s English and math scores improved after a sleep education program was implemented. In this particular study, sleep time was extended by only 18 minutes but that small change showed a measurable improvement in performance.
Further studies have shown that extending sleep time improves emotional control while reducing impulsive behavior. An Australian study, which followed 4,460 children, found that a change in sleep habits improved quality of life, behavior, language, and learning scores. The benefits of sleep are numerous and sometimes the changes necessary to improve it aren’t hard to implement.
A Change in Habits
Getting better sleep requires a consistent effort to develop good sleep habits, which include:
A Regular Bedtime: A regular bedtime allows the body to adjust and correctly time the release of sleep hormones. It also adds structure and predictability to a child’s life.
A Calming Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine helps the brain recognize when to start the release of sleep hormones. It also offers a chance for children to wind down after a busy day. Reading a book, taking a warm bath, or listening to quiet music can all be helpful ways to calm and relax your child before bed.
Turning Off and Remove Screens: The bright blue light from electronic devices like televisions suppresses the release of sleep hormones. Devices should be removed from the bedroom or turned off at least two to three hours before bed to prevent sleep disruptions.
Exercising Regularly: Exercise helps wear out both mind and body. Playing in the park, going for walks, and running through the sprinkler in the backyard can all help children get the activity they need to get better sleep.
By developing consistent, well-recognized boundaries, you can help your child get the sleep she needs. With adequate rest, your child will be able to put her best foot forward at school and in life.
Written By: SleepHelp.org