In this series of blogs I am writing about things parents can do to help their kids succeed in school. In my previous blog in this series I wrote about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise. Today I would like to talk about sleep.
Sleep is a very important part of our life. During sleep our bodies restore, repair, and absorb nutrients. Sleep is also essential for the brain and for learning. During sleep the brain restores itself, and processes the information it encountered during the day. Studies that use brain imaging show that during sleep the brain actually rehearses things the person learned and practiced the day before. Through rehearsing during sleep the brain creates more efficient pathways that make the person better able to perform the skill they are learning. Sleep is also essential for memory. Research shows that people who had sufficient sleep the night before remember more of what they learned the previous day than people who did not get sufficient sleep (even if they stayed up all night studying).
Sadly, many kids and teens do not get the sleep they need. Research studies estimate that 15 million children and teens in the U.S. do not get sufficient sleep on a regular basis. Chronic lack of sufficient sleep is found to be related to behavior problems at home and at school, difficulty with memory and attention, low self-esteem, and higher risk for failing in school. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to help your child or teen do well in school is make sure they get enough sleep.
So, how much is enough sleep? The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following guidelines:
- 1-3 year olds need 12-14 hours of sleep per day (this usually includes one day-time nap)
- 3-6 year olds need 10-12 hours of sleep per day (this usually does not include naps anymore)
- 7-12 year olds need 10-11 hours of sleep per day
- 12-18 year olds need 8-9.5 hours of sleep per day
If your child is not getting enough sleep, here are some things you can do:
- Stick to a regular bedtime and routine. Be sure to start the bedtime routine in plenty of time to get your child to bed so she gets the number of hours of sleep she needs. As a rule of thumb, it is helpful to have your child in her bed about a half hour before she needs to fall asleep.
- During the hour before your child’s bedtime, avoid stimulating activities, such as watching TV, computer or video games, or other activities that stimulate your child.
- Dim the lights around the house and do soothing, relaxing activities with your child, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or cuddling and talking with your child.
- Make sure your child’s bedroom is cool, dark, and comfortable. Remove the television and computer from your child’s bedroom. It helps to use the bedroom just for sleeping, and do play and other stimulating activities in other parts of the home, if you have the space for that. If that is not possible, try to create a “sleeping corner” around your child’s bed that is just used for sleeping.
- Ask your child what helps him calm down and relax. Some kids like to have a night light, while other kids have trouble falling asleep with a light. Some kids like a favorite stuffed animal. Some kids and teens like to listen to music before falling asleep. Just make sure you avoid having the TV on where your child is sleeping, because electronic screens tend to wake up the brain.
- If your child or teen has persistent difficulties with going to sleep on time, stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends. Sleeping in excessively on weekends can disturb the sleep pattern during the week.
- Getting exercise during the day can really help in getting better quality of sleep at night, because it reduces stress and can help your child or teen calm down and fall asleep more easily.
- Check out these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics for more information on helping your child get enough sleep.
- Also, check out these relaxation tips from Lindsay Bell.
If your child or teen still has trouble going to sleep on time or staying asleep throughout the night, even after trying all these tips, something else may be going on that is keeping your child or teen awake. In that case it would be helpful to talk to a professional to come up with a plan that will work for your child and your family.