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The key to kids' good sleep habits

Blog Post Teaser Image The results of a sleep study conducted in the UK has some fascinating insights.

The study found that children with irregular bedtimes had lower scores in cognitive tests than kids who kept regular bedtimes.

Researchers studied 11,000 British children’s sleeping habits and cognitive development at age 3, 5 and 7 to see if there were connections between the two.

Boys, in particular, with irregular bedtimes were more adversely affected than girls, particularly in the important areas of reading, writing and mathematics.

The negative impact of poor sleep habits in kids is not new. We’ve always known that sleep is good for kids’ growth and their health. Lack of sleep impacts on kids’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to colds and other bugs. Every teacher and parent knows that tired kids often get sick……not to mention irritable.

In the last twelve months I’ve seen significant studies attributing lack of sleep with poor behaviour; anxiety and depression particularly in teenagers; and now poor cognitive performance.

Interestingly, the key sleep factor that helps kids perform better, coping with adversity and behaving better at school is REGULARITY of sleep habits rather than how long kids sleep.

Kids who go to bed at different times and wake up at different times with big swings on weekdays compared to weekends- tend to be adversely affected. Sober habits are important when it comes to sleep.

Kids are routine-junkies. They fight routines of all kinds, but they are actually good for them.

Good routines of all kinds (meal-time, bath-time, homework time, bed-time, wake-up time) are essential to children’s healthy development.

Kids in chaotic homes use so much of their brain power just working out what comes next. The allostatic load on their brain is too much for many.

Routine and regularity is vital for sleep too. The sleep clock thrives on regularity. The sleep clock is re-adjusted on holidays and takes some time to get back to normal when kids return to school.

How much sleep do kids need?

Okay sleep varies from child to child but the University of South Australia Centre for Sleep Research recommends the following:

►   2-5 year olds: 11-12 hours per night
►   6- 8 year olds: 9-11 hours per night
►   8-12 year olds: 8-10 hours per night

Here are five ideas to make sure your kids’ bed-time stays regular and routine-like:

1. Don’t let kids stay up more than an hour or two later than normal on weekends.

2. Have a regular unwind time before the light goes out, and don’t let them fall asleep in front of the TV.

3. No exercise, big meals or hot baths directly before bedtime.

4. Establish rituals such as reading a book in bed that triggers the sleep habits.

5. Make their bedrooms cave-like. Melatonin, the chemical the brain releases to bring on sleepiness loves darkness, and hates lights of any kind.

Most parents know the importance of sleep, but now we need to appreciate how important structure, namely a routine, really is. 

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