The Importance of Sleep, + 5 Tips to Establishing Good Sleep Habits

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Daylight Savings Time ends this Sunday, November 5th, at 2am; which makes it the perfect time to talk about sleep habits for children! Read about why good sleep habits are crucial for children and adults alike, and how to set up a good nighttime routine for your family, below. 

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Sleep is the primary activity of the brain during early development; according to the National Sleep Foundation, by the time a child is two years old, he or she has likely spent more time asleep than awake! Sleep is especially important for children because it directly impacts their mental and physical development by restoring energy, increasing blood supply to muscles, repairing tissue and promoting growth, and releasing hormones crucial for healthy growth and development. Sleep has a profound effect on children’s ability to learn, as well as the ability to retain memories. A team of German and Swiss researchers have shown that “material that children learn subconsciously during the day is transformed into active knowledge in their brains during long periods of deep sleep overnight,” writes Tim Seldin, president of The Montessori Foundation, and author of How to Raise an Amazing Child The Montessori Way.

For all ages, the brain organizes and stores memories, in addition to sifting through all the “noise” of the day during sleep. Sleep deprivation even in small amounts has been linked to many health and behavioral problems, including but not limited to heart disease, kidney disease, obesity, high blood pressure, ADHD, stroke, diabetes, depression, and mood swings. Sleep, and lack of it, impacts all areas of life, which is why it is so important to make sleep a priority for your entire family.

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How much sleep do children need? The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:
Toddlers 1 – 2 years            11 to 14 hours
Preschoolers 3 – 5 years     10 to 13 hours
School-aged 6 – 13 years    9 to 11 hours
Teenagers 14 – 17 years       8 to 10 hours

Although there is obviously some leeway in these guidelines, it is important to keep a sleep routine consistent. Below, 5 ways to make your child’s sleep a priority.

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  1. Establish a Good Sleep Routine. Be consistent with your evening routine. It can look something like this: small bedtime snack, followed by a bath or shower, then getting on pajamas, brushing teeth, using the restroom, and reading a book or two. For older children, this could include time reading in bed before lights out. Doing this at the same time every evening sets up your child for success, and reduces the likelihood of tantrums and resistance to sleep.
  2. Give 10 or 20 minute reminders before starting the bedtime routine. This will allow your child to mentally prepare for the routine, and to wrap up any activity he or she may be engaged in. If your child is engaged in a game, drawing, or activity with siblings, the 10 minute reminder can help her adjust to winding down. Remind your child that he can start up the activity right where he left off in the morning.
  3. Limit screen time in the evenings. Screen time too close to bedtime has been shown to negatively impact sleep in a number of ways. First, it can cut into the time children would normally be preparing for bed and winding down, delaying the onset of sleep and overall decreasing the amount of sleep. Screen time too close to bed is also affected by the type of bright light screens emit, which interferes with a child’s natural circadian rhythms by disrupting melatonin levels that naturally tell a child he is becoming sleepy.
  4. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time, even on the weekends. Studies have shown that turning in at the same time every night actually produces better sleep overall. This kind of regularity can help you get to sleep faster, reduce overall stress, and protect against health and mood problems more than someone who shifts around his or her sleep schedule. This goes for children and adults!
  5. Dim the lights an hour before turning in. This may be common sense, but bright light can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Try keeping the lights lower as it gets dark outside as a signal to your child’s body that it will soon be time to sleep.

Don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour before bed on Saturday night, and happy sleeping!