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The Importance of Sleep

As a mum, I remember the interrupted sleep when feeding my children as babies and falling asleep in the process. I also remember my daughter who had colic and for the first five weeks and never slept during the day. I was an exhausted new mum, cat napping whenever I had the opportunity. Once the colic was under control, I introduced a strict sleep routine and never missed the 7 o’clock train for her bedtime. When my son was born, I carried out that same strict routine and to this day, I have two fantastic sleepers, which I believe was thanks to a routine.

The amount of times I see students yawning in the classroom and bags under their eyes at such a young age is alarming. Sometimes it isn’t the physical signs, it is what television shows they tell me they have watched and I know what time they are on! Children need a decent amount of sleep for brain development and the ability to learn and stay alert. You know what it is like when you have had one late night or a few late nights and you need a caffeine fix to get you through the day. As adults, we can cope better when we are tired, but a child will have a melt- down, complain, shows signs of being lethargic and will certainly not learn or retain a lot while at school.

A recent study conducted by Monash University, showed that some of our children are suffering because of snoring and worse, Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). Approximately 30% of children snore and this study showed that although more are pre-school aged children, 5% of children will experience OSA. The impact of this on school aged children included increased blood pressure, increased reports of poor behaviour and reduced intellectual ability. (1) These findings, as a teacher, do not surprise me at all. Over my years in the classroom, I have taught many students who are classic mouth breathers and those who suffer ill health due to repeated bouts of tonsillitis, colds and ear infections. Once you start talking to parents, sometimes it opens a dialogue of their sleeping patterns, snoring, always being tired, dark circles under their eyes and so on. Some parents who have taken their child to an ENT for further investigation have resulted in having tonsils, adenoids or both removed. They reported a significant change in their sleeping and breathing and reported their little cherub is far less tired!

I have also had many parents ask me what is the correct bedtime for children of various ages. Every child is different but as a rule of thumb, they need between 10-12 hours of sleep a night. I know as an adult, any less than 8 hours sleep and I am hopeless whereas my husband can function on 6-7 hours. It becomes difficult when you have children at different ages and require different amounts of sleep. In our house currently, both children go to bed at the same time but my son goes straight to sleep and my daughter can read in bed for half an hour. That makes up part of her bedtime routine. Bedtime routines are very important when in primary school and secondary school! Teenagers are different again and you may find yourself asking them to switch off mobile phones, ipads etc so it does not interrupt their sleep patterns. Better still; remove them from their bedrooms altogether. There are many studies out there proving these devices are affecting their sleep patterns and even our sleep patterns as adults if we leave them in our bedrooms. Buy an alarm clock if you use the excuse of having your phone as an alarm!!

If your child doesn’t like going to bed or you think they should be going to bed earlier, you can change that subtly over a short period of time. Pulling their bedtime back by 10 mins every couple of nights will gradually turn into half an hour over a week or so. Spending the time reading them a story won’t make it so bad because they have your one on one attention. A small cup of warm milk before bed is another idea. Milk is a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that your body converts to melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin, being the hormone in your body that tells you to sleep, and serotonin being the hormone that keeps you relaxed and happy.(1) Lavender drops on the pillow case is another means of promoting sleep.

Sometimes this change in routine for bed times will require some negotiating and tough love parenting, but it is all worthwhile for both parents and most definitely children.

As daunting as it can be at night time getting children to sleep, the importance and benefits of a good night’s sleep out- weigh the short term problems you may face developing a good sleep routine for your children. If you are experiencing difficulties with this, consult your GP.



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