The Importance of Sleep

There’s nothing like a toddler throwing a tantrum after missing her afternoon nap that underscores the importance of sleep – especially when it occurs in the Boston Commons on a beautiful spring day.  It’s not just two-year-olds that need adequate sleep however as research continues to demonstrate that sleep is an important factor of success for children, adolescents and adults.  From a neurocognitive perspective, insufficient sleep has been linked to a variety of negative outcomes in individuals including impaired attention, slowed reaction time, decreases in memory and concentration, and increases in task completion time.  In other words, if your child has not had sufficient sleep, you can expect that she is not getting in all of the information that is being taught in the classroom, it will take her longer to complete class assignments, and during tests, she will have trouble recalling what she studied the previous night.  Come homework time, the impact of a poor night’s rest continues and you can expect that her problem-solving abilities are hindered, homework will likely take longer, and she will have less patience when faced with a difficult assignment.  In addition to the neurocognitive difficulties, insufficient sleep has been found to be related to negative mood, psychosocial difficulties, colds and illnesses, and obesity.

So how much sleep is enough and how do we get it? Researchers have found that children need differing amounts of sleep depending on their age. Pre-school aged children require 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night and at least one daytime nap until about age 5.  Optimally, school-age children should get around 10 to 11 hours of sleep and adolescents should be getting around 9 hours of sleep per night.  While multiple barriers exist to getting needed shuteye, the following are several tips to that have been found to help children and adolescents get the sleep they need: 1) Create the optimal sleep environment, this includes a sleep space that is dark, cool, quiet, feels safe, and is free of technology, 2) implement a wind down routine with your child that is followed on a nightly basis, and 3) no screen time 1 to 1 ½ hours before bed as backlit electronics impact melatonin, an important hormone involved in regulating sleep.  During the day, it is important that your child is getting plenty of exercise and exposure to sunlight as it has been found that exercise helps you fall asleep quicker.  Remember, that your day prepares you for the night and your night prepares you for the day.