We all have a tendency to take for granted the importance of sleep. As adults, sleep often takes a back seat to other commitments but it’s important to recognize that sleep is a biological need. Just as we need sleep in order to function at our best, so do our children. In fact, it is one of the biggest contributors to the success of a child in an academic setting. Sleep plays a key role in learning and memory function. Without adequate sleep, your child will have a harder time focusing on a given task; the attention span of a child lacking in sleep is much shorter.
There are other signs of over-tiredness as well, such as hyper-activity. An overtired child produces more cortisol (stress hormone), which in turn affects their behavior. They may not be able to sit still or are constantly fidgeting; they also are more prone to behavioral problems and emotional outbursts. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived children are much more reactionary in their behavior than well-rested children. Other children may be unable to stay awake during school hours or they may seem lethargic throughout the day. Either outcome, whether extreme sleepiness or hyperactivity, should sound alarm bells for teachers and parents alike. The answer may be as simple as an earlier bedtime. This isn’t the case with every child that displays these symptoms but it’s a logical place to start.
So how much sleep does your child need? The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published childhood sleep guidelines broken down by age. Each child’s needs are a little different but the guidelines give a window for what is seen as an adequate amount of sleep. Aside from just looking at the numbers, it’s best to look at your child. How is your child’s behavior in the evening? How do they wake-up in the morning? Are they excited for the day or do they seem grumpy from the start? These are all things to consider when deciding how much sleep your child needs. We all want what’s best for our children and getting them enough sleep is just as important as feeding our children healthy food; just as food feeds our bodies, sleep feeds our brains.