When our children first head off to school, we start running through a mental checklist of all the things we hope they know before that first day. ABC’s, counting to 10, and how to make friends are usually high on the list. Of all the ways we give our children a help up in their academic and social performance, the one that’s most often forgotten is sleep.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation causes neurons in the brain to slow down, leading to slowed reaction times, poor decision-making skills, and reduced reasoning abilities. Short-term memory and recall abilities also slow, making it difficult for some children to perform academically.
Not getting enough sleep can also contribute to poor overall health. Children who don’t get enough sleep may face unwanted weight gain and obesity. Appetite control depends on the release of hunger hormones, which get released in larger amounts when we’re tired. Children are also more likely to get sick and stay sick longer when they’re sleep deprived because the immune system doesn’t have time to heal the body and recharge itself.
More Than Academics Suffer
Academics aren’t the only area that suffers during sleep deprivation Emotional and behavioral impulses are much harder for children to control if they’re tired. They tend to be more impulsive and emotional when they haven’t gotten enough rest, which makes it hard to function in a school setting.
The good news is early intervention shows impressive results. Parents who learned how to help their children develop healthy sleep habits noticed changes in both their child’s academic and social life. But, for the changes to last, the practices had to be consistently enforced.
Troubled Sleep Later On
Adolescence brings sleep problems of its own. Many pre-teens and teens experience sleep phase delay, wherein their sleep-wake cycle shifts by two hours. Instead of feeling tired between 8 and 9 PM, teens don’t start to get tired 10 or 11 PM.
This change occurs just as many teenagers enter middle or high school when they also face some of the earliest start times in a school district. When you look at the increase in academic load, increased social pressure, and time spent doing extracurricular activities, it’s easy to see why our children might not have enough time to sleep as they reach the higher levels of education.
How To Get Better Sleep
We can help our children get healthy sleep. By creating the right conditions and developing healthy habits like:
Good Sleep Conditions: A room that’s dark, quiet, and kept comfortably cool with the temperature between 60 and 68 degrees creates optimal sleep conditions. Teens also may outgrow their childhood bed and need a quiet mattress that doesn’t squeak as they move. It’s helpful to minimize sounds and light that can disturb sleep.
Consistent Bedtime: The body runs on regular 24-hour patterns called circadian rhythms to control your child’s sleep-wake cycle. Keeping a consistent bedtime establishes and strengthens these natural rhythms so that children will start to feel tired at the same time every day.
Bedtime Routine: Bedtime routines help signal the body when to release sleep hormones. A bedtime routine should include activities that bring children to a calm, relaxed state. The routine should be performed at the same time in the same order every day.
Turn Off Screens: The bright blue light from electronics like televisions, smartphones, and laptops suppresses the release of sleep hormones. These devices should be turned off at least two to three hours before bedtime.