Up until as recently as the 1950’s there was much ignorance about the importance of sleep. The public believed that sleep was just a passive state of unconscious rest.

Nowadays it is widely known that it involves many processes essential for the rejuvenation of both body and mind.

 

The importance of establishing good sleeping habits from a young age.

 

There is no time like the present to address and correct a problem. However, behaviours that a child learns in infancy are known to remain with that child for life and impact success later in life. 

 

Psychologists from Sweden surveyed about 5,000 working adults regarding their sleep habits and workplace attitudes. They found that well-rested people enjoy greater job fulfilment and are far calmer. People perceive those that sleep well as being pleasant to be around. Good sleepers have more friends and are socially better adjusted. Independent studies confirm that sleep allows the brain to function more clearly regarding problem-solving. Information is correspondingly more efficiently processed and retained as it can enter into long-term memory. Finally, regarding safety, well-rested people are more alert and responsible.

 

When you consider the evidence that has come to light over the years, it becomes evident that ensuring your child is equipped with good sleeping patterns for life is an essential part of good parenting. It sets them up to win emotionally, mentally and socially. A healthy sleep routine is one of the most fundamental and accessible gifts to give your child.

 

Understanding the science of sleep in correlation to the needs of your Child.

 

There are five stages of sleep, and each cycle lasts about 90 minutes. NREM sleep is part of the first four stages. REM makes up the fifth stage

NREM or Non-Rapid Eye Movement is known as the “quiet” sleep. During this phase, the relevant body systems restore energy by increasing the blood supply to the muscles.  Accordingly, tissue growth and cellular repair take place. The glands produce essential hormones that determine growth and development.

REM is the Rapid Eye Movement stage, otherwise known as “active” sleep. During this time the brain is busy and dreaming. Emotional release and healing take place through dreaming. Consequently, breathing and heart rates are irregular.

Over the course of the night, a good sleeper will go through this five-stage cycle four to six times depending on the duration of sleep. Each stage of sleep within the period satisfies the body’s need for a specific and all-important rehabilitative function.  The physical processes include restoring hormone balance, muscular recovery as well as memory coordination and integration. Across the board, the methods above affect emotional well-being and behaviour, physical strength and stamina as well as the mental ability and academic performance. With a deficiency of sleep, your child will suffer in all these areas to some degree or another. Constant lack of sleep has an accumulative effect leading to increased negative impact on quality of life.

 

The sleep cycle and how to ensure your child experiences a full night’s rest.

 

Stage one is where she becomes drowsy and begins to drift off into a light sleep.

Setting up for stage one is possibly the most crucial part of the preparation for a successful night’s sleep. Lawrence Epstein, M.D., is the chief medical officer of Sleep Health Centers, an instructor in medicine at Harvard University and co-author of ‘ The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep.’ He advises that to sleep well we must create the right associations and that routine is an invaluable asset in this regard. The body craves routine since it likes to know what to expect. 

Initially, establish age-appropriate routines in your child as an infant. The associations of sleep remain. Attachment parenting is a great way to set your infant up for a lifetime of peaceful bedtimes and good nights of sleep. The closeness which is characteristic of this parenting approach gives immediate comfort and develops confidence and security that lasts for life. A happy child copes better and sleeps more easily.

In the creation of a pre-sleep ritual for your child, you are establishing a clear association between certain activities and sleep. Quiet pre-bedtime activity will ease the sleeper into this phase of sleep. Having a warm bath after a wholesome dinner, reading a short peaceful story along with a bedtime cuddle is perfect for a preschooler or young primary school child. Most ages do well on a few pages of a gentle book. In a study at the University of Sussex, the research team made an important discovery. The reason it is essential is that it is so easy to apply. Half an hour of reading reduces stress levels more than some other methods of relaxation. There is nothing as satisfying as going to sleep with a heart and mind filled with peaceful images. Even your high school child may still love a short read before drifting off to sleep, although she may desire a little more freedom to choose her bedtime routine.

Create an optimal environment with a pleasingly dark and quiet room. It is normal for a preschooler to want a night light and a teen will enjoy her own choice of bedroom decor. Avoid any images and colours that can discourage sleep. A child who loves her bedroom will be more inclined to go to bed on time.

Miss Silberman who co-authored with Dr Epstein, emphasises the importance of a positive state of mind at bedtime. Directing the thoughts of a preschooler is easy. Post-story is the perfect opportunity. Use a simple question such as asking what she liked best about the story and then ask her why. Her associations of bedtime as a positive experience will increase. The same approach is appropriate for a primary school child. As your child grows, you may wish to adjust your technique. An older child discusses what she liked most about her day and why. Be creative and use the approach and wording that feels natural.

Silberman also recommends the practice of relaxation exercises. They ease unsettling thoughts and emotions. A simple tensing up of the entire body for a few seconds before letting go can be fun as well as relaxing for your preschooler.  Your high schooler may even enjoy five minutes of gentle yoga. 

 

In stage two the heart rate begins to slow down leading to lower core temperature. Consequently, ensure that your child covers up, even if it is with only a sheet in summer. Peaceful activity before stage one ensures temperature changes remain small. A comfortable sleep temperature is paramount for deep sleep.

 

Stage three and four are the most rejuvenating and sleep is at its’ deepest. Essential nutrients replenish both body and mind. They impact mental and physical development as well as general health. Silberman is also the author of The Insomnia Workbook: ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Sleep You Need.’ She notes how important it is to have time earlier on in the day to express one’s concerns. Accordingly, it is important to establish a habit of truly hearing what your child is saying whether she is aged three or thirteen. Don’t ignore your child’s issues until she is physically tired out from the day and goes into overwhelm. Night-time drama is guaranteed to spill over and affect sleep quality as well as the next morning’s mood and productivity. Encourage your child to be open by being a non-judgemental, supportive and attentive listener. Just knowing she has an empathetic ear in the person, she most needs it from will put her mind at rest.

The importance of Stage five relates mainly to the fact that the body is preparing for an alert state. Brain waves are increasing, and core temperature is rising.

 

Creating a crystal-clear association between your bed and sleep, according to Dr Epstein and Stephanie Silberman, encourages the body to go to sleep and remain asleep. The brain has to get the message that the time for work or entertainment is over until the next day. It is best that the study is separate and that electronic devices are removed from the bedroom at a specific time regardless of homework. Sometimes it is just best to go to bed earlier and wake earlier. A mind that is competent and fresh is capable of completing work quickly and efficiently.

 

Be sure to know your child’s needs regarding sleep duration. Although there are general guidelines, please do not assume that having the least recommended dose of rest is enough for her. She may very well require more. Naturally, there are also times when extra sleep is needed. Preschoolers aged three to five years old generally require anywhere from ten to fourteen hours. Primary school children need from ten to thirteen hours. High schoolers require eight to ten hours of sleep. 

 

Finally, lead by example. Your child will always do what you do rather than what you say. Prepare for bed at the same time as your child. You will benefit too. Having more time for relaxation before sleep helps everyone.