Cranky? Emotional? Distracted? Is your child getting enough sleep? Have you noticed lapses in their attention or do they forget what they are supposed to be doing? As humans, we need a minimum amount of sleep to function fully on a daily basis.
Sleep is vital for overall health and wellbeing in addition to readiness for learning 1 and has long been researched in relation to children’s development, behaviour and relationships 2.
“A substantial proportion of children who have learning problems also have sleep problems” 3.
Since the 1980s, many studies have found a link between sleep deprivation, and cognitive and academic difficulties 3. Lack of sleep can also make diagnosed difficulties or disabilities worse in students, particularly in the areas of attention and memory 3. Poorer quality and duration of sleep has been associated with children being overweight, having more accidents, having lower cognitive ability, and more behaviour difficulties 1. It follows that sleep should be a priority for parents and educators, to ensure students are ready and able to access the learning opportunities available to them, and to reach their full potential.
In order to support students to have good quality and duration of sleep, here are some tips:
- Establish a sleep routine. Children should get used to following a routine before bed and going to bed at the same time every night. This way their body clock gets used to falling asleep at the same time every night. At weekends, children can be allowed to stay up one hour later than normal, and lie in one hour longer. Any longer than this can lead to a ‘jetlag’ effect on Sunday nights and Monday mornings, especially among teenagers!
- Go to bed early! Children aged 3-5 years need 10-13 hours of sleep every night; children aged 6-13 need 9-11 hours; teenagers need 8-10 hours. During adolescence a lot of brain development takes place and sleep is particularly important for this.
- Avoid daytime naps. If we sleep during the daytime, this upsets our body clock at night.
- Minimise screen time. Electronic devices give off a stimulating light that alerts and wakens up the brain, making it more difficult to sleep. It is better to read a book or do something relaxing before bedtime. Agree a family ‘charge time’ – at an agreed time all devices go away to charge every evening. Parents try to lead by example!
- Stop being busy. The last hour before bed should not include any homework, activities or conversations that might stimulate our minds to be thinking or stressing about matters.
- Avoid stimulants. Caffeine, sugar and chocolate give us energy and make us alert. They shouldn’t be consumed in the three hours before we plan to sleep.
- Exercise. The body needs to be tired to sleep. Exercise is important for our mood, health and wellbeing.
- Do not disturb. Pets, music, lights and other people are all causes of disruption that can disturb sleep. Ensure children’s bedrooms are cool, dark and quiet.
DCIS Educational Psychologist
1 Staton, S., Irvine, S., Pattinson, C., Smith, S. & Thorpe, K. (2015). The sleeping elephant in the room: Practices and policies regarding sleep/rest time in early childhood education and care. Australasian journal of early childhood.
2 Lukowski, A.F. & Bell, M.A. (2015). On sleep and development: recent advances and future directions. Monographs of the society for research in child development.
3 Buckhalt, J.A. (2013). Sleep and cognitive functioning in children with disabilities. Exceptional children.