Sleep is a basic physiological need – it is crucial for our health because when we are asleep, our bodies repair and restore themselves.
Children, especially, need quality, consistent sleep to thrive. A good night’s sleep not only prepares their bodies for tackling the next day, but it also significantly affects their behaviour – children who do not get enough sleep can easily become irritable and moody, and they may display more impulsive or defiant behaviour. In addition, poor or inadequate sleep can lead to cognitive problems that impact their ability to learn.
Despite the importance of sleep, most children get less than the recommended amount – roughly 10 hours each night for school-aged children – needed for their bodies to rest and for their brains to process what they learned during the day (children take on enormous amounts of information daily, and their brains transform subconsciously learned material into active knowledge while they sleep).
Of course, getting children to bed on time is not easy! Many master the art of stalling from a young age, while some obstinately fight the Sandman for as long as they can. For others, getting a good night’s sleep may be hindered by sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking, nightmares or insomnia. Some medications, including those for asthma or ADHD, may also affect sleep.
Getting your child to bed on time is vital, and there is much you can do to help establish good sleep habits from a young age.
Set a routine: Create a predictable age-appropriate routine to help your child prepare for bed. This may include a warm bath, reading or listening to quiet music, etc.
Be consistent: Keep bedtime at a set time, even on weekends. A regular bedtime keeps your child’s circadian rhythms on track and is instrumental in allowing him to easily fall and stay asleep.
Create a soothing environment: Your child’s room should be a calm and free from stimulation at bedtime. It should ideally be cool, dark and quiet.
Encourage other healthy habits: Ensuring that your child gets at least 20 minutes of exercise a day will help him to sleep better at night. Also, limit foods that contain caffeine and sugar, especially in the late afternoon and evening.
Limit screen time: Cut off screen time at least one hour before bed. Not only is watching TV or playing games on a tablet or computer stimulating, but it suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep.
Benefits of getting enough sleep
- It promotes growth: Getting enough sleep guarantees that children’s bodies are producing the right amount of hormones to help them grow.
- It boosts the immune system: During sleep, the body produces the antibodies needed to fight infection, illness, and stress.
- It reduces the risk of injury: Children are clumsier and more impulsive when they don’t get enough sleep, making them more accident prone.
- It regulates emotions: Being overtired can make it difficult for children to manage their emotions, making them cranky and irritable.
- It influences health: Consistently poor sleep habits in childhood set the stage for adult sleep problems, and place children at greater risk for childhood obesity, as well as adult obesity and diabetes later on.
- It boosts learning: When children are tired they have more trouble paying attention, are less able to acquire and process new knowledge, and are often unable to effectively store and retrieve information from memory. All of these things are critical components of learning.
Sleep is an essential building block for your child’s overall health, well-being and academic success, so make sure that your child is getting enough zzzz’s.
Impak is a curriculum provider for home, tutor and school education. Visit www.impak.co.za for more information.