It’s a familiar refrain. “I’m not tired!I’m fine.I don’t want to go to bed!”
Depending on the age, children may want to stay up because they don’t want to miss out on what the family is doing.There may be a special event, or a parent who hasn’t arrived home yet.They may want to feel more like adults or their older siblings.They may want to continue reading, watching, playing, or hangin’.Or, in the case of teenagers, their circadian rhythm is changing and they just aren’t tired as early anymore.
But, by evening time, most parents are ready for their children to go to sleep. They themselves may be tired.A battle with their kids is the last thing they want.So, often, bedtime routines get compromised.You can hear the inner voices, can’t you? “It’s just for tonight.They will be back on schedule tomorrow.” “I want them to continue reading.It’s good for them.”“It’s important for the family to spend time together, even if it’s late.”
While any of those reasons for a late night could be true on occasion, the problem develops when the exceptions start to look more like the rule.
When an infant cries, we go through a mental checklist as to what could be wrong.The big three are hunger, dirty diaper, and ... tired.Sleep is fundamental.
In his book “Nurtureshock,” Po Bronson presents recent studies on the effect of the loss of a single hour of sleep.Statistics show that children today get an average of one hour of sleep less per night than they did 30 years ago.A Tel Aviv University study of elementary-aged school children split subjects into two groups: Half of the subjects got an extra half-hour of sleep, and the other group got a half-hour of sleep less for three consecutive nights.They were then given cognitive tests similar to the WISC Intelligence assessment.The results? The children with an hour of sleep less performed two grade levels below their actual grade.Similar results were found in Brown University studies, where nursery-aged children who stayed up later on the weekends scored seven points lower on intelligence tests, despite sleeping in later.The sleep shift was detrimental. In high school, test results show that kids who get As average about 15 minutes more sleep than those who get Bs, who average 15 minutes more than those who get Cs.
Studies also show that sleep loss interferes with the body’s ability to take glucose from the bloodstream, a necessary process to feed the prefrontal cortex of the brain.The prefrontal cortex controls higher-order thinking, concentration, emotional regulation, judgment, and other executive functions.In other words, sleep-impaired kids can manifest symptoms of ADHD.
Lack of sleep increases the hunger hormone and suppress the “I’m full” hormone.It also increases the body’s production of cortisol, the hormone that stimulates fat production.Taking these factors into account, along with the fact that getting less sleep makes kids too tired to be active, it has been suggested as a cause for the increase in childhood obesity.
Finally, during sleep the brain forms the new neural pathways that solidify and advance learning, insights, and long-term memory storage.Our children’s brains are in a constant state of development and redevelopment.When we deprive them of this sleep time, their learning is impaired.
So, how can we help our kids get the sleep they need?First, routines are a parent’s best friend.From the youngest ages, creating a schedule at bedtime on which the children can rely affords them rest, reduces stress (both theirs and yours), and teaches them how to develop good habits.Electronic devices, including TV and video, should be put away at least one hour before bedtime, since its “blue light” interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone necessary for sleep regulation.Try to keep to your schedule, even over Shabbat, especially when the kids are younger.
If there are times that the goal isn’t met, don’t beat yourself up.Remember that perfection isn’t the objective.But, a conscientiousness about the value of sleep and our children’s developing brains’ need for it can set a standard for healthy brain and body development.
By Laura Goldman