By: Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR
Is there any issue more troublesome for parents than getting kids to bed? From the moment offspring discover they have a will of their own, they choose going to bed as their favorite sport for flexing their willpower. Every home I know has an innate struggle between children and parents over sleep issues. What fascinates me about this struggle is that when told to go to bed, children don’t think they need much sleep. But when its time to wake them for school it becomes another story! Getting them out of bed becomes a second melee!
The Effects of Lost Sleep
This would really be a humorous encounter if the consequences were not so serious. Recent research published in the latest edition of the journal ‘Child Development’ reports that even a moderate change in sleep duration, notably losing sleep, can significantly impair a child’s brain functioning. Studies on adults had previously shown that significant sleep deprivation impaired the brain’s ‘executive control system.’ But this study wanted to explore the effect of only a slight change in sleep duration on a child’s schoolwork. It looked at the effects of adding or subtracting just one hour of sleep to a fourth – to sixth-grade child’s regular sleeping habits. The results are quite disquieting.
The researchers allowed a group of children to sleep their normal duration for the first two days, then, for the next three days they asked parents of half the group to either extend their child’s sleeping time by one hour, or the other half to reduce it by one hour. The children were evaluated on a variety of performance tests before and after these changes.
What they found was that those children who had one hour of extra sleep performed better on all performance tests, and those that had one hour less of sleep performed more poorly then when they slept their normal duration.
So, to all Moms and Dads out there, my message is very clear: if you want your child to perform better at school, add an extra hour of sleep to their regular sleeping time. And while you’re about it, do the same for yourself!
A Sleeping Guide for Parents
The study did not definitively explore how much sleep a child needs, and this is a pity because I think that this is the million-dollar-question on most parents’ minds. But I know from other research that a normal, healthy child needs a minimum of 9 hours of sleep in order to maximize his or her potential. Some might even need more. It is generally accepted that pre-school children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep.
How can you help your child sleep more and better? Here are some tips:
- Keep your child’s bedtime schedule the same EVERY night. This helps the body’s internal clock to become regulated, while too much variation deregulates it.
- Darken your child’s environment an hour before bedtime by reducing strong lighting. This helps the production of Melatonin, the body’s own natural sedative.
- Beware of frequent ‘sleepovers.’ Everyone loses sleep when kids try to sleep together and it takes quite a few days to recover from the sleep deprivation!
- Avoid “all-nighters,” such as studying all night the day before a test. A child needs a rested brain for exams, not just one crammed with information he or she won’t be able to remember!
- Children should avoid all ‘high adrenaline arousal’ activities before bedtime—such as gymnastics, rough play, competitive games, action TV, computer activities, etc. Adrenaline has to drop before sleep can occur.
- Try to create a family “wind down” time for all before bedtime. This should include some prayer time as well. You might be surprised how it helps your sleep as well!
Not only can these tips help your child sleep better, but they can also lay the foundation for a healthier life-style for when they grow up.
This article is produced by the American Association of Christian Counselors. For more information, write AACC, PO Box 739, Forest, Virginia 24551, or call 1.800.526.8673. The information contained in this article is provided to AACC members for information purposes only. AACC assumes no responsibility for how this information is used and in no way endorses the counseling services provided by the person or counseling centers that provide this information.