Turn your child into a sleeping beauty
When you see it in black and white, it makes a whole lot of sense: the more your child sleeps, the more adults-only time you have, the better they perform at kindy and the more pleasant and manageable their behavior tends to be. It really is as simple, and as win-win, as that.
However, our kids are not getting the amount or quality of sleep they so desperately need.
Does your child have a sleep deficit?
Everyone knows that tired kids are cranky kids. But the longer term and more serious consequences of sleep deprivation include impaired immune function and psychological problems such as memory and attention deficits.
Not only that, researchers at the UniSA’s Centre for Sleep Research are now warning that sleep-deprived children and teenagers are at an increased risk of obesity.
Preliminary evidence from a small sampling of primary school students in Darwin found that 100 per cent of children who slept for less than six hours per night were either overweight or obese.
While well under the recommended nine to 10 hours sleep for children in this age group, researchers are now trying to determine if less than 7 or 8 hours sleep in children may have a similar effect.
“When we don't get enough sleep, we believe it might confuse our appetite hormones,” Dr Sarah Blunden, lead researcher in the first study of its kind in Australia to look at the link between sleep and obesity and one of the first in the world to focus on kids.
“The body’s natural appetite suppressant would then become an appetite stimulant and people would gain weight. So far, it appears sleep is a factor in kids and if it is, it's certainly a controllable one.”
Have sleep rules – and stick to them
According to Dr Blunden, the most important thing is for kids to have a regular bedtime and a regular wake time, which shouldn't be more than an hour later than usual on weekends and holidays.
“You should also keep TVs and computers out of kids' rooms - they're a stimulant and a temptation to stay awake, and they could affect your child's sleep hormone.
Spicy or salty foods, such as pizza, for dinner are a no-no, as theycan affect sleep and cause kids to wake in the middle of the night due to thirst.
Dr Blunden also recommends a quiet bedroom that's not too hot or too cold and a bedtime routine, such as reading a book to younger children or letting older kids listen to calming music with the lights out before bed.
Up their serotonin for quality sleep
The amount of sleep kids get directly relates to how much serotonin they have and how vulnerable to stress they are, according to Andrew Fuller, author of Tricky Kids: Transforming Conflict and Freeing Their Potential (Finch Publishing, 2010). Here are Andrew’s tips for ensuring kids get great-quality sleep:
- No caffeine after 4pm (that includes soft drinks and energy drinks with lots of caffeine).
- No vigorous exercise in the two hours before bed.
- If they report feeling tired in the evening, it is a good idea to ask them to go to bed. If they push through that tiredness, they won’t have another sleep wave for 90 minutes.
Remember, there is no such thing as a sleep bank. Just because your child slept 10 hours last night doesn’t mean they can cope with only six hours tonight.
Find more stories about children's sleep
- How much sleep does my baby need?
- Settling your baby to sleep
- Our kids need more sleep
- 4 ways to get kids to sleep better
- Sleep strategies for tired mums
This article was written by Karen Fontaine for Kidspot, New Zealand's best parenting resource.