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How important are 40 winks?

by , 25th Oct 2013

I am sure most new parents can attest to the sheer exhaustion of the early weeks and months of having a new baby. One hopes that this fatigue lifts as the baby gets into a routine and starts to sleep through the night. But as your child gets a bit older, what is the right amount of sleep for your child and when should they sleep? 

It is worth remembering how we feel, as adults, when we are sleep deprived. Clear headed decisions become more difficult as do problem solving activities. It is a struggle to remain focused and concentrate, especially for longer periods of time and we experience these difficulties as beings much more adept at regulating our behaviour and controlling our impulses and emotions.

Afternoon naps

cuddly

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Afternoon naps are often phased out once children start nursery places or seem to be able to ‘cope’ with a full day without napping. However, recent research suggests that napping could aid children’s learning, even for those who seem to be able to have grown out of it. University of Massachusetts researchers found that when children aged between three and five had a nap after lunch they performed better on visual-spatial tasks not only that afternoon but also the next day. They were also able to recall 10% more information than if they had been kept awake. This suggests that the benefits are far-more long acting than purely refreshing the child for the afternoon ahead but that they are important for memory consolidation and learning. Brain activity was mapped as the children slept and it was noted that there was increased activity in the regions associated with assimilating new information and learning.

Dr Robert Scott-Jupp, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

It’s been known for years that having a short sleep can improve the mental performance of adults, for example doctors working night shifts. Up until now, no-one has looked at the same thing in toddlers. This is important, because pre-school nurseries are divided on whether they should allow their children a nap.

Toddlers soak up a huge amount of information everyday as they become increasingly inquisitive about the world around them and begin to gain independence.

It is worth remembering how we feel, as adults, when we are sleep deprived. Clear headed decisions become more difficult as do problem solving activities. It is a struggle to remain focused and concentrate, especially for longer periods of time and we experience these difficulties as beings much more adept at regulating our behaviour and controlling our impulses and emotions.

We now know that a daytime sleep could be as important as a night time one. Without it, they would be tired, grumpy, forgetful and would struggle to concentrate.1

I find this research both timely and interesting as my own anecdotal observations concur with the research. As someone who teaches children aged between two and eleven, I notice a huge difference in concentration, motivation and interaction between scheduled morning and afternoon lessons especially in children aged 2-5.

Regular bedtimes

regular-bedtime

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There has been a spate of recent research into the effect of sleep on children not only on naps but also the effect of regular bed times on behaviour. A study of more than 10,000 children by University College London researchers has shown that those with erratic bedtimes exhibited behavioural and emotional difficulties as well as symptoms of jet lag. At a more extreme level this can undermine brain maturation and disrupt natural body rhythms. However, the study also showed that these symptoms could be reversed with regular bed times.

Professor Yvonne Kelly, from UCL’s department of epidemiology and public health:

Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning … It follows that disruptions to sleep, especially if they occur at key times in development, could have important lifelong impacts on health. What we’ve shown is that these effects build up incrementally over childhood, so that children who always had irregular bedtimes were worse off than those children who did have a regular bedtime at one or two of the ages when they were surveyed.2

Again, as a teacher, there is a clear difference in a child’s capability to learn if they come into school clearly overtired. However, despite the benefits to their wellbeing, many children reject the idea of a full night’s sleep or an afternoon nap. No child is the same and they all have different sleep requirements with their parents best able to judge what their child needs.

Here are a few tips to encourage good sleep routines for children:

  • Maintain a consistent and relaxing routine so that children know what to expect at the same time every day.
  • Try to avoid overstimulation (such as outdoor play or computer games) in the run up to a nap time or bed time. Instead try calm activities such as a quiet game or reading together.
  • Ensure that children sleep in the same place so that they associate that place with calm and sleep and try to ensure that it is quiet, dark and not too hot or cold.
  • Encourage children to drop off to sleep by themselves using a soother such as a blanket or a teddy and put them to bed whilst they are drowsy instead of already asleep.
  • If children are trying every trick in the book to refuse bedtime, encourage them to stay in bed by promising that you will be back in five minutes, then 10 minutes etc (with a kiss and a cuddle as a reward for them staying quietly in bed). If they do get up, give them no attention other than leading them back to bed.
  • If your child is really not going to drop off for a nap, give them a designated quiet time (perhaps use a sand timer so they can see clearly when the time is up) either for quiet play or looking at books in their nap environment.
  • Good sleep for children means better sleep for parents and we all know how much better we feel after a good night’s sleep!

How do you get your child to sleep? Please share your top sleep tips with us.

1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24202591
2) http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/14/children-regular-bedtimes-behaviour

Featured image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/cute-girl-sleeping-on-a-white-bed-photo-p186468

4 comments

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  • rafal.niwa@interia.pl' @raphaa_official says:

    I’ve to admit that your blog is great. I read him explaining to my little sister, thanku 🙂

  • terzic.igor08@gmail.com' igor terzic says:

    Certainly, children should be provided with good and effective sleep during which they will be able to recharge their batteries for the new joys and trials that await them in life.
    It is normal for children to have to make it clear how important holiday for their overall health and progress because they are so empty and full of energy that then its easier to use and balance between the various activities that provide them with a lot of things they need to be properly developed and grow into mature and responsible people .
    We adults have the responsibility to reluctance to give children the opportunity to all the energy that children have to spend large amounts on the right things , and to find myself in time for what meets their needs and for what keeps them in a way that they can be easier and faster to overcome all that stand in their way of their growing up in the course of which must have a special time when you need to rest your body , which will then be more receptive to new challenges and temptations .
    Good sleep is a major generator and motor development of every child as it has a preventive effect on children , making them supplies a good dose of quality holiday it is today in conditions imposed by the fast pace of life of all those activities that make life as he is certain the fact that child meets with what they need in order to develop normally and properly , it is necessary to ensure that children respond more efficiently to the demands that we look for ways to achieve them .
    Sleep is necessary and it must be an integral part of a child’s life, all while allowing thus accumulate batteries for new adventures and exploits of the children it easier to process so much faster and better influence their needs for play and the joy with which children express their satisfaction that can calmer they do not disturb the rhythm of life that slowly settles even while children are young and in this way we allow them to safely go through life following the goals that they have set themselves a policy that will follow throughout the entire his life .

  • lana.orton@ortonweb.com' Lana Orton says:

    The importance of sleep is huge, both for the kids and for their parents: how much quality can you put in your everyday interaction with your child, if you’re chronically overtired?
    We had problems with our little-one’s sleep patterns for many months. We strictly followed bedtime routines since he was born, as well as most advice that you mentioned in this blog, but it must be our way of living and frequent travelling that stopped him from developing good sleeping habits. To put him to sleep during the day I would sit next to him and sing for an hour or more. Sometimes he would not sleep at all. He would fall asleep nicely in the evening but would wake up 6-7 times during the night for water or cuddles. In the end, only two things helped:
    1. We started following a “2-3-4” pattern for daily naps. That means putting him to sleep 2 hours after he wakes up in the morning, then 3h after the first nap, and 4h after the second nap should be bedtime. In reality, the 4 hours were extended to 5-6, but that system made him fall asleep within minutes every time. After his 1 birthday, he stopped having the first of those two daily naps.
    2. He started sleeping through the night only when we applied the “crying” technique. That one is tricky, because, until he becomes comfortable in falling asleep on his own, you can apply the method only when you’re at home (which wasn’t that often for us), when he is not ill or teething. In reality, not very often. Even though that method is frowned upon by many, after several long months of starting and disrupting, we now have a happier baby then ever – he wakes up in the morning smiling to the world and is ready to absorb new experiences and gain new knowledge.

    Every family should find their own way of dealing with sleepless babies and kids.

  • […] we shared with you the importance of naps for children. One of the reasons why naps are so beneficial is that they can help children preserve their memory […]

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