We all know how important a good night's rest is, particularly for children. But sometimes schedules get out of whack, time gets away from us, or children simply do not want to go to sleep. For some families, it is tough to stay on schedule. Some parents might be tempted to ask: Is the recommended amount of sleep for each age really that important?
In a word, yes.
If it's late at night, and you can't fall asleep, you might be interested in reading an extremely comprehensive American Physiological Society article on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website. One key point can be found midway through: "Nevertheless, it is striking that studies of the developing brain, including those targeting critical period plasticity, show an influence of sleep on the formation of memory that is even more profound than that observed in the adult brain."
The aforementioned article really is an exhaustive study on the physiology of sleep, but the takeaway is that when the body is experiencing various sleep cycles, memories move from short term to long term, all through neuronal plasticity assisted by sleep. Without that rest, memories don't have opportunities to permanently form. So instead of thinking of sleep as only necessary for good moods or good health, parents should think of sleep in terms of overall cognition, because it's absolutely vital.
I was at an Association for Illinois Montessori Schools conference last weekend, and Dr. Tammy Pawloski showed this bedtime/wake-up time guide. She pleaded with educators to reinforce just how critical sleep is in the development of a child's brain. Below is a picture of one of her PowerPoint slides.
Are you a family that struggles to get your kids to bed at the "regular" time? Be sure to help the situation as much as you can. First, if television or personal devices are being used, set an eventual goal of ending their use two to three hours before bed. That sounds very difficult, doesn't it? Maybe you can try for at least one hour and then build up the time. Second, try getting your children to bed at the same time every night, keeping in mind the above chart for the recommended hours of sleep needed, as well as wake-up times. Third, if your kids are experiencing poor quality sleep, try lowering the temperature of the thermostat a few degrees. And if you've been setting your thermostat to 60 degrees for example, it's possible you might need to raise it.
One final thought. Children normally get plenty of exercise. But if your children are more sedentary, or if weather prevents normal exercise that day, be sure to get them active an hour before dinner, so that by bedtime they will have settled back down and will be ready to rest.
There are also vast numbers of books on Amazon regarding helping children get to sleep and stay asleep. If this is an issue for your family, spending the necessary time and energy to solve it will pay huge cognitive and emotional dividends down the road!