Interestingly, most of our understanding of sleep is not about knowing what happens when we sleep, but about realizing what happens when we don’t. Sleep is a powerful process of restoration. It helps us function better physically, emotionally, and metabolically. It helps us consolidate and shape our memories, and has a direct effect on our attention and behavior.
That means, of course, that reducing sleep leads to a reduced ability to perform well in school. Children who do not get enough sleep may even become confused and appear to have ADHD. Many of the symptoms are the same: children who sleep little are less able to concentrate, are more easily distracted, and are more hyperactive or impulsive.
And children of all ages have a harder time learning when they don’t get enough sleep, from restless, tired babies to high school students who just nod off in class.
The basics of sleep hygiene
Sleep is essential, but many of us, children and adults alike, do not get enough sleep. One of the best ways to get back on track is through better sleep hygiene. This means establishing habits that promote a good night’s sleep, such as establishing a routine.
Routines look different at different ages. For example, babies are not born with the same biological clock that keeps us asleep at night and awake during the day. Instead, babies will sleep for a few hours and then stay awake for a few hours, regardless of the time of day.
This is perfectly normal behavior for a newborn, so parents should let them adhere to their natural sleep patterns and try to sleep when they are asleep. To avoid having a tired baby, parents should reinforce the natural sleep schedule by starting a calming activity after an hour or more of an awake baby.
Parents can also help babies follow the sleep patterns you want them to develop by placing them in sunny rooms during the day and dark rooms at night. Eventually, they will begin to sleep more at night and take fewer and fewer naps.
As children grow older, a routine should involve a set bedtime, because they will often want to be awake watching TV, playing games, or texting. And because it can be hard for kids to fall asleep after all the stimulation they get from doing these things, a bedtime routine should also involve a screen-free time before bed to help them calm down. The goal is for children to go to bed feeling sleepy.
Create good sleeping quarters
Another important element of good sleep hygiene is making the bedroom a good place to sleep. The room should be dark and not too distracting. Rooms often have bright alarm clocks, flashing lights on game consoles, and phones that vibrate with each new text. Children’s rooms in particular also tend to be full of fun toys that draw attention, read additional info here.
For the best quality of sleep, rooms should be cool and comfortable. This can be a struggle with some children who prefer to fall asleep under the weight of a blanket, but then wake up sweaty and uncomfortable. If this is the case for any of the children in your home, try using thinner blankets and pajamas.
One last rule is that the bed should only be used for sleeping. Children, especially teenagers, use their beds for everything, including doing homework and watching TV. This is really bad because kids should only associate their beds with sleep. That way, when they’re in bed, they know why they’re there and don’t feel like they might be watching TV instead.