Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is a normal activity that we need to stay healthy and happy. There are many important things that our body is doing while we sleep, such as growing, processing new information we learned during the day, and giving our organs, such as the heart, blood vessels, and pancreas a chance to rest and repair. A child’s brain needs sleep so they can remember what they learn, be able to pay attention and concentrate, solve problems, and think of new ideas. The body needs sleep so muscles, bones, and skin can grow, and the body can stay healthy and fight sickness.
How do you know if your child is not getting enough sleep?
Interestingly, children do not get sleepy when tired, but rather exhibit hyperactive behavior with an inability to concentrate on one task and a tendency to jump from activity to activity. This can sometimes be mistaken for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other daytime symptoms that may indicate your child is sleep-deprived include constant complaints of feeling tired, difficulty with attention, academic problems, and behavioral issues such as aggression. Adolescents can become moody and even develop depression and anxiety. Physiologically, sleep deprivation can cause weight gain and obesity. Needless to say, obesity can lead to a whole host of diseases, among them obstructive sleep apnea that further impacts sleep.
What bedtime rituals do you recommend for a good night’s rest?
Consistent, calming activities will help your child fall asleep more easily. Following the same rituals each evening, such as taking a bath, putting on pajamas, and reading a book will let your child’s body know that it is time to wind down.
Teaching a child to fall asleep on his or her own is also key to decreasing nighttime awakenings. Staying or lying with a child until he falls asleep creates a sleep association, which is a condition that must be present in order to fall asleep. The same sleep associations learned at bedtime are then needed to fall back asleep during the night. A child who can fall asleep on his own will be able to soothe himself back to sleep without assistance if he awakens briefly overnight.
Should I allow my child to watch TV or use other screens in bed?
Stopping screen use, including watching television and using laptops, tablets, and cellphones, at least one hour prior to bedtime and turning off all devices at night make for optimal sleep. The blue light from screens can inhibit the release of melatonin, the hormone that causes a child to feel drowsy, making it harder for him to fall asleep. Light and noises from cellphones can also trigger nighttime wake-ups and tempt children to look at their phone if they do wake up overnight. All electronics are best left outside of a child’s bedroom.
Learn more about dealing with sleep issues in children.