Healthy sleep for your school going child
Continuously studies support that healthy sleep is imperative for our children’s optimum health and well being. Evidence outlines that lack of sleep in school going children has a direct impact on their academic performance as well as their overall mood and behaviour. One particular study demonstrated that the loss of just one hour sleep overnight significantly reduces the child’s ability to learn and retain information. Lack of sleep also contributes to a weaker immune system and obesity issues. With this in mind, how then can we as parents ensure that we are meeting our children’s sleep needs and giving them the best opportunity to operate at their personal best?
Be informed. Healthy sleep is defined as uninterrupted, consolidated sleep. Sleep is measured in both quality and quantity. Quality of sleep is defined by the fact that it is unbroken by awakenings outside of typical transitions through natural sleep phases and shouldn’t require an adults intervention or a change in location throughout the night. Quality of sleep is also defined by the time that it happens, so in sync with the natural body clock. All children have an ideal time to be awake and asleep, and the amount of sleep required per age group.
From age 4 onwards most children will have dropped their day time sleep requirement and now rely on their sleep quota being filled solely at night. As children get older, their sleep needs decrease, as illustrated below.
Age 3-5 years 10-13 hours
Age 6-13 years-9-11 hours
Age 14-17 8-10 hours
To ensure that your child gets enough sleep you may need to work backwards from their wakeup time in the morning in order to establish the ideal time for them to be asleep by in the evening to ensure that sleep need is filled. Lots of young children are missing a crucial 1-2 hours of much needed sleep as their bedtime is too late for them. If your 7 year old routinely wakes in the morning at 6.30am then bedtime asleep should ideally be by 8-8.30pm. It can be very difficult to make a child sleep later in the morning so the only way of filling their sleep need is by observing an earlier bedtime.
To help a child go to sleep with ease they will need to be tired, quiet and relaxed and they ideally need to be able to go to sleep without a parent. See below for my top tips:
- Get your child involved in their bedtime. Make it an enjoyable, predictable process. Introduce this gradually if you don’t have a routine already. Chat to your child about your plans to help wind them down ahead of sleep. Give them time to adjust to this new process and give them a sense of ownership by allowing them to make some decisions about the bedtime routine, such as which books you will read together.
- It can be helpful to “put the house to sleep”or quiet the home environment, maybe an hour preceding bedtime. This means turning off televisions, computers, video games, phones and pulling the blinds and curtains to create a dim, peaceful environment. This can help to enhance the sleep hormone and relaxing hormone, melatonin and oxytoxin and can be a lovely way of bridging the gap between wakefulness and sleep.
- Ensure that the environment is sleep friendly; dark, cool, quiet and comfortable.
- If your child finds it hard to switch off; try doing some muscle stretching exercises that are proven to help to prepare their bodies for sleep. Avoid stimulating activities and generally keep the routine exclusively to the child’s bedroom to ensure positive associations with the sleep process.
- Un-plug gadgets and avoid televisionat least 1 hour before bedtime.
- Make sure that you are all getting adequate fresh air and outside activity. Exercise can help increase the amount of deep sleep our children need. A large number of children (my own included) are ferried back and forth to school by car and bad weather prevents them playing outside as much as we would like. Try to fill this gap as best as you can, at the same time ensuring that your child isn’t over-scheduled from an after-school activity point of view. Two or three extra classes would be enough for any child. They need their “down time” too. Having too many extra-curricular activities can make it hard for your child to wind down at the end of each day.
- Maintain a healthy, balanced dietavoiding high processed, high sugar type foods and drinks that may impair the ability to go and stay asleep.
Examples of relaxing exercises:
- Pretend you have a lemon in your hand. Squeeze it real hard to get all the juice out. Now let go of the lemon. Do the same thing 2 times for each hand.
- Pretend you are a soft furry kitten. Put your arms up above your head and stretch as far as you can. Try an even bigger stretch and then relax.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC H.Dip.RM, is a paediatric sleep consultant, Author of the bestselling book The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of “Sleep Through”, a natural bed and body sleep spray and relaxing rub and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie<http://www.sleepmatters.ie>, t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org