Sleep and Your Child
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
My mom and sisters would roll their eyes if they saw I was writing this article. Yes, I am one of those parents who stresses about what time my children get into their beds at night. My reasons are two-fold.
First, for the reasons I will discuss below, and second, because in order for me to be a healthy mom, I need some “me-time” in the evenings to catch up on things that didn’t happen during the day, spend some time with my spouse, or just plunk myself down in front of the television and relax. Whenever I visit my family, they always keep my children up to suit their schedule thinking that it is a special treat for my children to stay up late and fool around or watch videos. Then I get two crying, cranky heaps of flesh on my door-step the next day who, guaranteed, are sick and end up missing one or two days of school the next week. A friend of mine had a similar experience over the Christmas holidays. She noticed that with all the family events that went into the evening, her five year old was turning into an emotional three year old, and she had to go back into her parenting “bag of tricks” to do all the things that she thought she wouldn’t have to use again now that her daughter was more mature. She vowed at that time that, as parents, they were going to change the way they socialized until their daughter was old enough to stay up into the evenings.
I know that we all have stories like these with our own children. The problem can be, though, that we may not recognize that our “emotional” child may more likely be a sleep-deprived child. I recently finished reading the book Nurture Shock: New thinking about children by P.O. Bronson and Ashley Merryman (2009 – I refer you to this text to see all the references noted below). In this book, they noted that children from elementary to high school age get an hour less sleep per night than children did thirty years ago. After we are done worrying about our baby’s sleep, we seem to stop worrying about it at all. There are many reasons for why this is occurring. Some parents have children who have biological issues that affect falling asleep at night (i.e., AD/HD); others over-schedule their children trying to give them every opportunity they can; sometimes too much homework is assigned at school; some parents have relaxed bedtimes because they want to spend time with their children because they have been at work all day; and some parents allow televisions, computers, cellphones in their children’s bedrooms. All of these do not allow for what sleep experts call good “sleep hygiene” (this is because screens emit a blue light that shuts off our natural melatonin production, which helps us to get sleepy at the right time of day).
What we’re discovering, though, is that this lost hour of sleep is having a detrimental impact on our children’s development. Sleep scientists have been able to isolate and measure the impact of this lost hour because children’s brains are continually developing until the age of 21-25 and most of this development occurs while they are asleep. Sleep matters in ways that we may not have understood until now – obesity rates, AD/HD diagnoses, academic performance, emotional stability (e.g., your moody tween- and teenager may just be experiencing sleep deprivation), and depression – are just a few of the ways that sleep impacts our bodies. Dr. Avi Sadeh at Tel Aviv University took fourth- and sixth-graders and asked them to either go to bed earlier or stay up later for three nights. He then tested them on their current achievement and attention at school. He found that “a loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development.” Similar findings were observed by Dr. Monique LeBourgeois at Brown University who studied the effect of pre-kindergartners staying up late on weekends. In this case, it is not that the children got less sleep, it was more a shift in their sleep to later times on Friday and Saturday evenings. Dr. LeBourgeois found that for every hour of weekend shift, it cost a child seven points on a standardized IQ test. This data was confirmed by Dr. Paul Suratt at the University of Virginia, who stated that, “sleep disorders can impair children’s IQ as much as lead exposure.”
Now it is time to look at the issues you may be having with your child’s behavior or emotional stability and their sleep schedule. It is impossible to make someone fall asleep, but there are numerous things we can do to get our children into their beds at a reasonable hour for their age and ensure that they are feeling as relaxed as possible. If you are having issues with bedtimes, please contact myself at 403.922.4122 or through the contact link above for a consultation on what might be appropriate for your family. This may take some real changes in your household and family schedules, so prepare to come with an open mind!