Babies let us know how much sleep they need by becoming cranky, sucking their thumb or rubbing their eyes. When parents recognize these signs, they comfort their children to help them go to sleep. As children get older, they show different signs of needing sleep and will fight going to bed. Crying, tantrums, poor reactions to stress and lack of attention are all signs a child is tired. However, well-designed routines that help children establish sleep patterns are vital for lifelong health.
Recently released research reveals that the link between poor sleep and buildup of the protein amyloid in the brain is evident in early dementia patients. Other early signs that a child is not getting enough sleep include signs of inattentiveness at school and home, and children may have a higher risk for developing learning problems. Children with poor sleep habits are more at risk for overeating and diabetes.
Multiple factors might upset sleep patterns: too much screen time, caffeine and disturbed sleep. The value of screen time with young children has been in question for years. Not only has it been shown that children passively watching TV, an iPad or a computer, do not learn; their language development is highly affected in a negative way. Screen lights on devices lower children’s levels of the self-regulating hormone melatonin. Melatonin is responsible in helping children and adults to develop deep sleep or REM sleep patterns.
Each night, children go through sleep periods with different types of sleep. The most important is REM or rapid eye movement sleep. During this type of sleep, the brain rebuilds itself. New information taken in during the day or experiences are placed in either short-term or long-term memory. The brain’s storage capacity is amazing and vital during REM sleep.
The good news is that parents can provide help to their children to develop good sleep habits. Each night should have the same routine. Like adults, who are routine based, children need them even more. Designing a routine should consist of homework, or packing up items for the next day, and then, what I like to call the 5 B’s: bread or dinner, bath, brush teeth, read a book and bed. Children are proficient at learning and maintaining the same routine with parental support. The development of routines is tough at first, but with continued persistence it will pay off.
Each year, families make new resolutions; let’s make positive routines and good sleep habits two of them. I can assure you that you will see the difference in your children’s behavior; they are calmer, more able to deal with stressors and will be well prepared for a healthy long life. Happy Holidays to all of my readers!! From my family to yours, may this season bring you good fortune, joy and health.
Anne E. Mead, Ed. D., is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.