Sleep is one of the most important things in life that we take for granted. Particularly in the early years of parenting, we often get a taste of how much tougher days can be when we don’t get enough sleep. Not only will late bedtimes and early wake up calls take a toll on your child, but on you as well.
In the first 3 years of your child’s life, their brain undergoes a criticalperiod of development where more than a million neural connections are being paved and formed each second. At the tender age of 2, their brain is already at 80% of the size of an adult’s brain. All their senses are constantly engaged to help shape their brain for thinking, feeling, moving and learning. When the child sleeps, processes take place in the brain and other areas of the body that support growth, health, memory and cognitive development. It is during sleep that information is stored in the long-term memory, human growth hormone is released, blood flow is sent to the muscles to restore energy, broken down body tissues are rebuilt, and nerve cells are rewired.
Children who don’t get enough quality sleep often display difficulties with emotional regulation, including behaviour issues such as hyperactivity and poor impulse control. How to tell if your child is sleep-deprived? Unfortunately the signs are not always obvious. Some children fall asleep on the way home, and some actually become wired and restless when sleep-deprived. Researchers have found that many of the behavior problems and learning difficulties attributed to ADHD might actually be consequences of chronic fragmented sleep.
With technology seeping into our modern lives, the rise of screens is becoming one of the concerning culprits of a child’s sleep derailment. The blue light emitted by these gadgets actually interferes with the release of melatonin –a hormone the body produces to signal that it is bedtime. A study of children aged between 6 months and 3 years old has shown that for every additional hour a child spends on a device during the day, they clock in almost 16 minutes less sleep. The longer their screen time is, the more these children face difficulty falling asleep because their brains are constantly stimulated by the colourful and bright visuals. That’s why experts recommend that screens be turned off at least 2 hours before bedtime. Getting children to go to bed early can sometimes take a lot of effort if they awaken throughout the night, and for parents who have already put in a full day at work, it can often feel like a battle not worth fighting.
Yes, an inadequate night’s sleep will show up in the form of dull skin, tired eyes and the inability to focus on tasks at hand, but they can also impact long-term health. Studies show that children who are sleep-deprived have poorer immune systems. They run a higher chance of getting health issues such as obesity and high blood pressure. A study published in the PaediatricsJournal in August 2019 found that children who spend too much time on technology devices and don’t get enough sleep are more prone to poor decision-making and acting impulsively, and their brains are not able to consolidate and remember what they have learned during the day.
Irregular bedtimes will disrupt healthy brain development in young children, so getting enough sleep at regular hours is essential for helping them maintain optimal health and well-being. When it comes to their health, sleep is as important as regular exercise and eating a balanced diet. Here are 5 ways that you can make sleep a priority for your child.
- Establish a routine: Follow a regular bedtime routine – such as taking a shower, brushing their teeth and perhaps a story before bed. A routine can be calming for children and help their bodies get ready for sleep.
- Move up their bedtime: Set your child’s bedtime earlier to ensure that they fall asleep when they actually should. Children between the ages of 12 months and 5 years old should be getting 10 to 14 hours of sleep.
- Avoid screens before bedtime: Even just a few hours before bedtime, the stimulating lights from your devices can disrupt the brain’s circadian rhythms and trick the brain into thinking that it should still be awake, instead of winding down. It probably won’t be a good idea to read a bedtime story on a Kindle.
- A good sleep environment: The right environment can help your child fall asleep soundly and stay asleep through the night. Their ideal bedroom setting should be dark, with a dim nightlight if necessary, screen-free, quiet and with a cool temperature.
- Avoid late-night eating: Dinnertime should be at least two hours before bedtime. And be mindful that a bedtime snack could also contribute to your child’s inability to fall asleep as per their bedtime. Sweet foods and drinks should be avoided in the evenings to ensure they don’t get a sudden surge of energy.
Late bedtimes, night time awakenings and early mornings can all reduce your child’s sleep quality. What’s more, our lives now are not designed with sleep in mind. Parents have longer work days and children have after-school activities and homework. Our lives are so fast-paced that we hardly have time to reconnect and take a step back. When we do get a moment to ourselves, how often do we find ourselves whipping out mobile phones and checking our emails or social media?
The lack of sleep is definitely related to our lifestyle and this will also in turn affect our child’s quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep is a complex and dynamic process that removes toxins in your brain, maintains pathways that lets us learn and retain new information every day. Reinforcing bedtimes and limited screen use should not just be for children but for parents too.
GUG Preschool embraces the importance of early childhood development along with adequate quality rest breaks and sleep. Ourapproach combines early childhood pedagogy with gifted education expertise to buildfivekey intelligence skills in children: (1) knowledge mastery, (2) analytical and creative thinking, (3) effective communication, (4) care and compassion, and (5) a confident, positive mindset. In between lessons, we encourage stretching and relaxing exercises. Even during children’s naptimein school, we make it a point to play soft and soothingmusic in the background. Music has a soothing effect on our emotional brain, easing stress and anxiety. It slows down the heart rate, breathing and lowers the blood pressure; all of which are physiological changes that hastenthe time taken to fall asleep and improvetheir sleep quality. At GUG Preschool, we ensure that your child develops holistically and optimally, right down to their rest times.