Saturday, November 1, 2014

Go Get Some Sleep!

At a recent meeting of the Early Childhood Advisory Council - a group of folks from across the city gathered to talk about children and families in Somerville - we asked, What are the needs of children and families in Somerville at this moment in time? While important topics such as transportation, housing, food, and access to educational opportunities were brought up, there was another topic, a by-product of some of these issues, that is central to young children's well being on a daily basis:

Did you know that the average 4 year old needs 11-13 hours of sleep per 24 hours, including up to 2 daytime naps? But many children don't get enough sleep to sustain them through the demands of the school day.

For some children, sleep is interrupted by family members who are up later, staying awake to see a parent whose work schedule doesn't jive with a young child's sleep schedule, and of course children who are hungry or sick may not sleep well. Sometimes we misread a child's signals. A child who looks "wired",  is over active, seems like they have a lot of energy, may actually be exhausted.

Babies adapt and may sleep wherever and whenever, but between 6 months and 1 year of age consistent sleep patterns develop.  Between 3 and 6 months is a good time to establish regular sleeping routines that can continue into the toddler and preschool years.  

This means that adults need to change too. Children generally adopt the same attitudes about sleep that caregivers hold. For example, results from the National Sleep Foundation Sleep in the Modern Family Poll 2014 showed that children having electronic devices (television, computer, tablet, video game, smartphone, etc.) in their bedroom tended to have less sleep duration and poorer sleep quality. Furthermore, children whose parents have electronics in the bedroom were also more likely to have electronics in their own bedrooms. And, while it is not always possible or necessary for a household to be completely silent, quiet spaces for sleeping are necessary.

It is important that teachers and others who work with children, including those in health care, talk to families about the importance of promoting healthy sleep habits.  When behavior problems arise, I always ask about sleep first. Some suggestions:
  • Start bed time earlier
  • Dim lights in the evening hours before bedtime
  • Establish routines that always have the same order - for example, PJs, brush teeth, story, good night hug, lights out or dimmed
  • Make a quiet place for a child to sleep - especially when siblings or family members share a room (curtains or furniture to separate an area)
  • No electronics in bedrooms
Remember we set our clocks back last night so children's clocks may be a bit off for a week or so and that means teachers and caregivers need to pay extra attention to sleep patterns and routines.
Now go get some sleep.

Some interesting reading to learn more about sleep, development, and learning:
The New York Times: What do Students Need Most? More Sleep
The New York Times: Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep
Ted Talk: One More Reason to Get a Good Night's Sleep
The Atlantic: Let the Body Rest for the Sake of the Brain

Thanks to Dr. Anne-Marie Chang for her help with this post.
Assistant Professor in Biobehavioral Health, Penn State University
Affiliate Faculty in Medicine, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital

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