Sleep and Your Kids’ Brains

It won’t be long before winter break is behind us, and kids are headed back to school and daycare.

The holidays often lead to later bedtimes and loose schedules, but we’re here to tell you why it’s important to get back on track before school starts up again…

Getting enough sleep is absolutely vital for all of us. It helps you manage stress, it’s good for your heart and it aids in digestion.

It’s also key to ensuring better learning and social experiences for your child.

Signs that your child is sleep deprived

You might think that pushing bedtime back a bit is ok during the holidays. It’s obviously not life or death, but there are definitely consequences to your child missing out on much-needed sleep.

Sleep deprivation can lead to changes in behavior and can have impacts on health. Just a few missed hours of sleep can affect your child’s ability to function optimally.

The Sleep Lady, Kim West has compiled a list of things to watch for that might indicate that your child is sleep deprived:

-Overly emotional (explosive temper tantrums, easily hurt feelings, no patience)
-Difficult to wake in the morning
-Difficulty concentrating or focusing during play
-Taking long, or excessive naps
-Defiant or contrary behavior
-Difficulty falling asleep (overtired)
-Falling asleep as soon as they hit the pillow (sleep should take about 20 minutes for a healthy sleeper)
-Increased appetite
-Accident prone, or clumsy
-Excessive talking (more questions than normal or frenzied conversation)

If you’ve noticed your child’s behavior changing maybe it’s time to assess their sleeping schedule.

Just how much sleep does your child need?

At each stage, your child’s needs will change when it comes to how much sleep they need and how long they will sleep for at a stretch. 

Just a few lost hours can throw off a child’s balance.

Dr. Michele Borba explains: “Lack of sleep can have a serious impact on children’s abilities to learn and perform at school. In fact, in one study, Tel Aviv University researchers found that missing just one hour of sleep can be enough to reduce a child’s cognitive abilities by almost two years the next day. For example, a sixth grader who loses precious zzz’s the night before a big test could end up performing at a fourth-grade level.

In that case, your child’s true ability is not being tested, since they are not functioning at their normal level. This affects your child’s overall scores in a negative way and doesn’t accurately measure their ability or their level of understanding on a regular day.

When your child is tired, you may notice that they sometimes space out. This is because their brain is temporarily shifting into microsleep. This makes focusing next to impossible.

Studies have shown that without sufficient sleep, remembering new information is difficult too. Even recalling things you’ve already learned can be a challenge.

Peg Rosen of expands on that issue: “Overtired kids may work more slowly because it’s tough for them to remember what they’ve just heard or read. When they learn a new math formula, for example, they may forget it by the next day.

This will be frustrating to your child, who might struggle to keep up in school as a result of this lost information.

The emotional toll

Your child is more likely to act out if they haven’t had sufficient rest.

Mood swings, depression, hyperactivity, clumsiness and difficulty falling asleep are just a few potential side-effects of overtiredness.

Many children will cry in their sleep if they are overtired too, making life difficult for parents who awaken repeatedly to the sounds of their children crying in the nighttime. 

How can you help your kids get back on schedule?


*Set a schedule, and stick to it. To help your kids adapt to the schedule, build in routines that they can associate with bedtime. For example, start with a bath, get into pajamas, read a book together and then it’s time to go to sleep.

*Appeal to their senses with soothing scents like lavender (in their bathwater or in a diffuser) to help ease them into a restful state. Avoid night lights where possible, as artificial light can disrupt your child’s sleep.

*Where possible, avoid distractions or events that prevent your children from getting to sleep on time. Turn all blue-light emitting screens off at least an hour (ideally more) before bedtime. Blue light can disrupt sleep hormones for significant periods of time after it’s turned off.

*Sometimes eating the right foods before bed can help. Certain supplements are also very useful. Flax seed oil helps to encourage better sleep and can be blended into a bedtime smoothie (include warm milk, banana, honey and cacao for a sleep-inducing bedtime snack). Magnesium is very effective for promoting healthy sleep, especially when you can spray it on and ensure fast absorption.

However you manage it, ensuring that your child gets enough quality sleep will set them up for successful learning and development.

So if you got a little off track over the holidays, it’s time to make sleep a priority again. Your child will benefit from it and so will you!

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