Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Importance of Sleep for Children (and Us)

Emotion coaching, healthy boundaries, and sleep are the most important factors in my parenting tool kit.  I bring up these three factors because one time a parent asked me how my daughter is so verbally advanced.  "Is it because you are a teacher?"  Truth be told, this is part of the equation, yet in my mind, emotions, boundaries, and sleep are far more important.  To sleep I turn.

Researchers are not entirely sure why we sleep, but they have found that brains seem to organize and reorganize emotions, memories, and learning.  Thus, sleep is not just about resting the body.  The brain is doing wildly amazing things at night.  When we shortchange our brains or our children's brains, mental and physical health can deteriorate over time.  Learning also becomes compromised, so that is why when I think of my own daughter's verbal acceleration, sleep is one of the key ingredients.

The average child needs 11-13 hours of sleep, the average adolescent (ages 10-19) needs 9-10 hours of sleep, and the average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep.  The easiest way to figure out how much a child needs to sleep is to let them "sleep in" on the weekend.  How long do they sleep on average?  There you go.  After you figure that out, then think about when they need to wake up on the weekday.  Now calculate what time to wake up.

In my 3.5 year-old daughter's case, we figured that she needs about 12 hours of sleep a night.  This is from when she actually falls asleep until she wakes up on her own.  She usually talks to herself for about half-and-hour, and we want her to wake up on her own by 7:30am in the morning.  This means we need her to fall asleep by 7:30pm.  Backtrack 30 minutes for her to fall asleep, and that means turning the lights off by 7pm.  Backtrack 30 minutes for books, story time, teeth brushing, and turning the lights off, and this puts us at 6:30pm.  There it is - we must start working towards bed by 6:30pm.  The planning gets even more tricky for schedules because that means we need to make sure we have dinner by 5pm, because we want to have family time after dinner, instead of rushing her off to bed.

Many parents have schedules that work against such planning, and with today's working couples, working single parents, and working divorced parents, scheduling can be quite daunting.  The goal is to try to do what we can with our schedules to make sure they get as close to the amount of sleep their bodies need.  

The question is what can we cancel, move, or rearrange to make it happen?  Our children's emotional, mental, and physical health depends upon it.  By the way, how is your sleep as a parent?  It is also part of the equation.  Longer sleep can lead to better parenting.

Science of sleep videos you might be interested in:

Photo at top by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash