All too often when we talk with parents about their child’s struggles at school, whether these be academic or social, the parents point to the child being tired as a possible reason. As teachers, we see tired children in our classrooms too regularly. Many present as being disengaged in learning and don’t function at their optimum. They sit back and are unresponsive and unable to present quality work. Other times their lack of sleep is evident in their behaviour. They can’t sit still, their patience wavers and they have less tolerance for others.
As a mother of two children, I know all too well how getting children to bed at an appropriate time can be incredibly difficult. At the end of a long day, the bedtime routine sometimes feels all too hard and it’s easy to procrastinate. However, endless studies have proven that one of the most powerful strategies to improve mental health and well-being in children and young people is to increase the amount of sleep they receive. Anxiety goes down and confidence, well-being and the ability to engage well in learning improves when kids get enough sleep.
Sleep maximises brain growth and also helps consolidates learning. Sleep research shows that the brain practises what it has learned during the day when a child or young person is asleep. This means that sufficient sleep not only keeps children renewed and ready to maximise their future learning but it also helps consolidates past learning as well. This information alone was enough for me to make a concerted effort to get my children to bed early! Studies also show that generally, children who develop good sleep patterns when they are young tend to carry these habits into adolescence.
If you are parent who is struggling to get your children to sleep or battling with kids who want to stay up longer, then this knowledge about good sleep habits maybe useful for you.
Good sleep habits include:
1. Having a regular bedtime
Kids will often fight against this, but be firm in making this happen. I like the strategy of allowing children to stay up a little later on weekends, but only if they have been cooperative and successful at going to bed at their set time each night during the week. Children need between 10-12 hours of sleep each day.
2. Introduce wind-down time
This can be up to 45 minutes prior to bed. Wind-down time includes, turning off the TV and other stimuli, engaging in calming activites and limiting food and drink intake. The wind-down time helps informs the body clock that sleeping time is near.
3. Have a predictable bedtime routine
Children love routine and function best when they know what is expected and when. A bedtime routine signals psychologically that it is time for sleep. Bedtime routines often include things like having a bath, cleaning teeth, laying out clothes for the next morning, snuggling up together and reading a book and praying.
4. Keep bedrooms for sleep
It is important that bedrooms do not become IT hubs. Bedrooms should not be for TV’s, iPads or other IT entertainment purposes. Bedrooms that resemble ‘caves’ are recommended. I suggest having a communal place in the house where all technology is plugged in at a given time each day (not kept in bedrooms). Instilling this in children when they are young will make this much easier to navigate when your children enter teenage years.
If your children get less sleep than they should, let me encourage you to make it a priority to get them to bed earlier. Making this change may not be easy but I encourage you to persevere until it becomes a well-ingrained routine. Not only will you reap the benefits of having more time to yourself of an evening (and perhaps even better behaved children), but your children will benefit greatly too. Win-win all round!
Mrs Vicki Gunning / Head of Junior School