There is a lot of buzz in the education world about the importance of grit and teaching our children to be resilient. They are worthwhile skills that can certainly influence a child’s current and future success. Foundationally, the importance of routine and consistent expectations can also have just as much influence on a developing mind and body.
One challenge we all face is finding balance and enough time in the day to fit everything in. Overscheduling can happen so quickly and easily, it often is not a distinct issue until you are facing an exhausted child in tears and the end of a long and busy day. Many times the exhaustion surfaces during the homework time. At this point in the year, I have had a number of conversations with parents and teachers alike about how our children are dealing with day to day challenges and learning. A consistent theme keeps resurfacing: Our children are tired. Sleep is a critical component of a child’s (and parents!) day; the benefits and consequences of too little sleep can have a lasting impact. As we near the end of the first quarter of the year, please consider the following excerpt from Parents magazine. I encourage you to not only balance daily activities, but to also balance your child’s need for a consistent nightly routine and sleep.
Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.Specialists like Dr. Mindell outline these crucial reasons all children need their daily dose of sound sleep.
1. Sleep promotes growth.
"Growth hormone is primarily secreted during deep sleep," says Judith Owens, M.D., director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., and a Parents advisor. Mother Nature seems to have protected babies by making sure they spend about 50 percent of their time in this deep sleep, considered to be essential for adequate growth. Italian researchers, studying children with deficient levels of growth hormone, have found that they sleep less deeply than average children do.
2. Sleep helps the heart.
Experts are learning more about how sleep protects kids from vascular damage due to circulating stress hormones and arterial wall -- damaging cholesterol. "Children with sleep disorders have excessive brain arousal during sleep, which can trigger the fight-or-flight response hundreds of times each night," says Jeffrey Durmer, M.D., Ph.D., a sleep specialist and researcher in Atlanta. "Their blood glucose and cortisol remain elevated at night. Both are linked to higher levels of diabetes, obesity, and even heart disease."
3. Sleep affects weight.
There's increasing evidence that getting too little sleep causes kids to become overweight, starting in infancy. The sleep-weight connection seems to snowball. When we've eaten enough to be satisfied, our fat cells create the hormone leptin, which signals us to stop eating. Sleep deprivation may impact this hormone, so kids keep right on eating. "Over time, kids who don't get enough sleep are more likely to be obese," says Dorit Koren, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist and sleep researcher at the University of Chicago.
Worn-out kids also eat differently than those who are well rested. "Research has shown that children, like adults, crave higher-fat or higher-carb foods when they're tired," Dr. Koren says. "Tired children also tend to be more sedentary, so they burn fewer calories."
4. Sleep helps beat germs.
During sleep, children (and adults) also produce proteins known as cytokines, which the body relies on to fight infection, illness, and stress. (Besides battling illness, they also make us sleepy, which explains why having the flu or a cold feels so exhausting. It forces us to rest, which further aids the body's ability to heal.) Too little sleep appears to impact the number of cytokines on hand. And it's been found that adults who sleep fewer than seven hours per night are almost three times more likely to develop a cold when exposed to that virus than those who sleep eight or more hours. While there's little data on young children, studies of teens have found that reported bouts of illness declined with longer nightly sleep.
5. Sleep reduces injury risk.
Kids are clumsier and more impulsive when they don't get enough sleep, setting them up for accidents. One study of Chinese children found those who were short sleepers (i.e., fewer than nine hours per night for school-age children) were far more likely to have injuries that demanded medical attention. And 91 percent of kids who had two or more injuries in a 12-month period got fewer than nine hours of sleep per night.
6. Sleep increases kids' attention span.
Children who consistently sleep fewer than ten hours a night before age 3 are three times more likely to have hyperactivity and impulsivity problems by age 6. "But the symptoms of sleep-deprivation and ADHD, including impulsivity and distractibility, mirror each other almost exactly," explains Dr. Owens. In other words, tired kids can be impulsive and distracted even though they don't have ADHD. No one knows how many kids are misdiagnosed with the condition, but ruling out sleep issues is an important part of the diagnosis, she says. For school-age kids, research has shown that adding as little as 27 minutes of extra sleep per night makes it easier for them to manage their moods and impulses so they can focus on schoolwork. Kids with ADHD also seem to be more vulnerable to the effects of too little sleep. Parents are almost three times as likely to report that their child with ADHD has a hard time falling and/or staying asleep than parents whose kids don't have ADHD, says Dr. Owens.