WORDS: Brooke Michell, Director Calm Space Psychology and Mum of 4
A good quality sleep is the best way to reset your brain and body health each day, and this applies to children as well as adults. When our children sleep well they reset their body systems and also provide their brain with the rest it needs to perform a HUGE number of functions.
So what is good sleep? And how do we get it?
Good sleep means the ideal quantity of sleep, and also good quality sleep (continuous and uninterrupted). Sleep needs vary according to age, but in general we are looking at between 9-11 hours for primary school aged children, and between 8-10 for teenagers.
When children achieve good sleep, there are so many benefits. From an education perspective, we know that when children sleep well their memory works better, and they are better at both recalling information, and also storing new information. This is clearly extremely helpful for school children who spend their days learning new concepts!
Sleep has really important impacts on emotional regulation too. When children are tired they are less able to regulate their emotions, which can impact on how well they are able to navigate the myriad of social interactions they have at school. Tired children may also be less accurate in how they make sense of what is happening in the playground or in the classroom, leaving room for them to misinterpret social cues. Chronic sleep deprivation is also associated with irritability and hyper-activity, and furthermore, sleep deprivation is linked with anxiety and depression in children. Poor sleep can have significant consequences on a child’s behaviour and functioning at school.
We are continuing to learn incredible things about how our dream sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep/REM sleep) is so important for processing emotional information, and also for supporting creative thinking and problem solving. The old saying ‘sleep on it’ has some clear scientific evidence because brain imaging can show us the incredible brain activity that happens in our creative brain while we are asleep and dreaming!
And finally, just in case I hadn’t quite convinced you about the value of sleep for our little people, when we don’t sleep well our immune system suffers and we are much more susceptible to sickness and infection. It really is worth prioritising sleep as an incredibly important part of the wellbeing picture for our children.
As adults we may find it difficult to understand why our children resist sleep or sleep poorly. What we may not have considered is that for children bedtime and sleep is a point of separation from their parents, and perhaps also from their siblings. Some children find these points of separation very difficult.
The great news about sleep is that it can be changed and improved quite easily, because poor sleep is often a result of a pattern of learnt behaviour and repeated interactions. With help and support these patterns can be adjusted and changed to support good quality sleep, which can have significant impacts on the whole family, improving mood, behaviour, health and educational outcomes.
Wishing you and your family great sleep and sweet dreams!