At night, when I used to get wound up in middle school (because Judy M. said to me in front of everyone that Barry Manilow wanted his wardrobe back), my parents would remind me to go to bed. The mantra, “Go to sleep. Things will be better in the morning,” really has credence. It can be incredibly hard to be in middle school, but we know for sure, a solid night’s sleep can really help.
In a world where there simply doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, it sometimes seems hard to remember that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. This is especially true for children from infancy through late adolescence. In our work at Radcliffe Creek School, when we problem solve how to help a child learn best and have meaningful social relationships, I find it is often important to discuss a child’s sleep patterns.
Children who do not get enough sleep will present with issues in the areas of attention, behavior, decision making, perception, and academics. We see that children (people) who don’t get enough sleep can struggle with their weight or other health ailments like a weakened immune system.
In my experience, it is not uncommon to see children and teenagers who are sleep-deprived wrestle with anxiety and depression. One of the most alarming research findings is that there is a very strong link between high school adolescents who get 6 hours or less of sleep and their increased risk for self-harm by engaging in high-risk behaviors. Therefore, it is critical to have a bedtime routine and to make sleep a priority before children are in high school so that when life becomes more demanding, they have strong habits in place for continued mental and physical health.
If your child is struggling in any of these areas, consider analyzing their sleep patterns. It would be good data for your family and for your child’s doctor to know how many hours of sleep your child gets each night. Are they sleeping peacefully or are they waking up due to sleep apnea? Do they have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep? Does your child have night terrors? One suggestion is that if you have a fitness tracker like a Fitbit, let them wear it to bed. It will track and graph your child’s sleep. For children who learn differently, sleep deprivation can compound the other challenges they are working so hard to overcome.
“We’ve learned that sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for the initial formation of memories,” says Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “And then, sleep after learning is essential to help save and cement that new information into the architecture of the brain, meaning that you’re less likely to forget it.”
We know everyone needs to sleep and everyone’s body is different. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers us these guidelines:
- Infants to a year: 12-16 hours per day including naps
- Toddlers to 2 years: 12-14 hours including naps
- 3 years to 5 years:10-13 hours
- 6 years to 12 years: 9-12 hours
- 13 years to 18 years: 8-10 hours
(By the way, for adults, we should try for between 7-9 hours per night.)
With the intensity of COVID-19 and all we need to do to remain healthy and be safe, sleep well, for everything will be better in the morning.
Meg Bamford is the Head of Radcliffe Creek School