Sleep is a vital function for life. Without adequate sleep, children learn less, are more accident prone, and more irritable. Inadequate sleep is also linked with lower immune functioning and higher rates of illness. Many school problems are related to inadequate amounts of high-quality sleep. Sleep is when learning is consolidated into long-term memory, so without adequate sleep learning is compromised. Sleep also has restorative and repairing functions for your body. Some other ways children benefit from sleep include:
- Improved sports performance
- Improved academic performance
- Helping control body weight
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Improved concentration
- Reduced chance of developing diabetes
School-age children often resist going to sleep, delaying bedtime as long as they can. Being consistent about bedtime is vital to help ensure your child is alert, happy, and ready to learn.
Sleep is divided into two types: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (NREM). NREM sleep consists of several stages, from drowsiness through deep sleep. In the early stages (Stages 1 and 2) your child can wake easily and may not realize that you have been sleeping. However, during deeper sleep stages (3 and 4) it is very hard for your child to wake up. If you do wake your child they will be confused and disoriented. In NREM sleep your muscles are more relaxed than when you are awake.
REM sleep is much more active, and is essential for converting experiences into long-term memory. Breathing and heart rate change quickly, your child’s eyes move rapidly under their eyelids, and control of their body temperature is limited- they do not sweat or shiver if it is too hot or too cold. Nerve impulses from your brain are blocked at their neck, temporarily paralyzing their bodies. REM sleep is where they dream.
Individual sleep needs vary. Kindergarten age children need about 11 hours of sleep each night, decreasing to 9 hours by Middle and High School. The most important indicator of a child getting enough sleep is if they wake feeling refreshed. If a child is hard to wake in the morning, it’s a pretty good indication that they aren’t getting enough sleep.
For kindergarten and lower elementary children, the bedtime routine should be short- about 30 minutes. This included bath, teeth, story, a goodnight kiss, then lights out. Any longer than this means that your child is delaying sleep, and likely won’t get an adequate amount.
Many children who are sleepy or tired act exactly the opposite. Some overtired children appear completely wired. Overtired children are often impulsive and moody. If you think your child is overtired, move the bedtime back by 15 minutes each week until they are waking refreshed. Chances are, your child will protest at this earlier bedtime. However, parents are the ones who set bedtimes, not children. Pick this battle. Be prepared to die on the hill of earlier bedtimes. The long-term benefits of adequate sleep far outweigh the short-term pain of a few nights of tears and tantrums.
- Establish a regular bed time and don’t vary from it
- Use a relaxing routine at bedtime , try a warm bath, and always read a story.
- No food/drinks with caffeine six hours before bedtime.
- Make after-dinner playtime a relaxing time as too much activity close to bedtime can keep children awake.
- No screens on, or music playing while your child is going to sleep. White noise, like a fan might be helpful though.
- Make sure the temperature in the bedroom is comfortable and dark- tin foil on windows can help darken a room.
- Limit noise in the house.
Very few teenagers get 9 hours of sleep during the school year and are constantly in sleep debt. With the hormones of puberty comes a sleep phase delay that means teens fall asleep later and wake later. Compounding this, overtired teens often feel more alert in the evening, thus making it more difficult to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Teen sleep debt can cause a variety of problems, including irritability, impulse control, attention problems, and perhaps most immediately worrying, these problems are associated with a higher risk of car accidents. Sleep disturbances or deprivation shows up in school as excessive sleepiness, lateness, academic and behavior problems, inattention, irritability, hyperactivity, and impulse control problems.
Sleep Debt: refers to the effect of not getting enough sleep night after night. For each hour of sleep missed one night, the effects add up each night, increasing the harmful effects of lack of sleep. If your child stays up late one night, they need to make up at least most of the sleep debt the next night by going to bed earlier to “pay off” their sleep debt.
The correct amount of high-quality sleep is one of the single most important things you can do to ensure your child is ready for learning. Establish a healthy sleep routine that ensures your child wakes refreshed each day.
Tips for Teens:
- Exercise everyday, early in the day
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
- Create a good sleep environment
- Use your bed for sleeping only
- Avoid alcohol, drugs,and cigarettes
- Put your electronics to sleep an hour before bed
- Store and charge your electronics in your parent’s bedroom
Night terrors are very common in children. They normally occur as a child moves from a deep sleep into a lighter sleep phase (something that happens several times a night). Most children experience night terrors between 4-12 years old. Night Terrors can take on a variety of forms such as when your sleeping child screams like they have just been bitten by a zombie. Some children will sit up in bed, and open their eyes as if looking right through you. After a little while they will lie back down and go from this light sleep state into a deep sleep state. Rarely, children will seem panicked, and will try and leave the house. Waking them doesn’t really help, guiding them back to bed works best, and chances are they won’t even remember it in the morning. In general, night terrors aren’t a big deal, although it can sure seem like it at the time.
Sleep Walking is also fairly typical in 8–12 year-olds. Generally, a child will sit up in bed with their eyes open, but still asleep- seeming to look right through you, or may walk around the house, even carrying out activities such as brushing their teeth. They may talk, but don’t normally respond intelligibly if you talk to them. Children normally outgrow sleepwalking by age 14. Safety and injury prevention is the most important thing with regards to a sleepwalking child. If you have a sleepwalker, keep doors and windows closed. Using the baby gate for across the stairs may help. The Canadian Sleep Society suggests a bell on your child’s door to so you can hear if they leave their room sleepwalking.
Bed Wetting: 1 in 20 ten year old children wet the bed. Bedwetting is thought to be due to developmental lag in neural systems that control feeling to the bladder. Bedwetting isn’t really physically harmful, although it can have pretty significant impact on self-esteem, and may limit social contact with friends- children often don’t want to go on sleepovers or overnight trips for example. Normally children grow out of bedwetting. There are also various methods of training children to become more aware of bladder sensations that may be effective. If a child who has been dry at night for a period of time starts to wet the bed, it may be due to a bladder infection.
Nightmares: Nearly all students have nightmares once in a while. Frequent nightmares are uncommon between ages seven and eleven. Frequent nightmares are usually due to emotional issues. If a child is having frequent nightmares, the best solution is to address the emotional issues during the day (not at bedtime). Crying and calling out happen after the nightmare when the child wakes. It is best to provide attention and support quickly. Children need reassurance- they are often very frightened. Show that you, not the nightmare are in control.
Sleep-Onset Anxiety is a difficulty falling asleep due to large worries or fears. It is often caused by worrying about normal things that happened during the day, or due to emotional trauma. Sleep-onset anxiety is mostly seen in older elementary students. Strategies include calming bedtime routines, reassurance, or in extreme cases cognitive behavioural therapy.
Delayed Sleep-Phase is a problem with sleep rhythms that leads to problems falling asleep at an appropriate time. This leads to difficulty waking in the morning. Such delayed onset leads to trouble waking, sleeping through the day, excessive daytime sleepiness, truancy and lateness, and of course, poor performance in school. Treatment can include gradually moving the child’s sleep routine an hour or so each evening until a better routine is reached, and maintaining good sleep hygiene including a consistent sleep schedule.
If you have concerns about your child’s sleep, a discussion with your family doctor is the best place to start.