When I was a kid I had a routine to get to sleep earlier, but like so many, as I became a teenager and more independent, the ability to get to bed at a decent time became a challenge. For me this challenge became a habit as I got older and went to college. Endless projects (and night jobs) were the perfect excuse to stay up into the early morning. Flash forward to the present… I’m older, hopefully wiser. I now constantly research sleep with the goal to share what I learn.
What I’ve come to learn is that SLEEP is the MOST IMPORTANT THING, especially for young folk whose brains (and habit patterns) are still developing. Short-term memories are held briefly in the hippocampus section of the brain, then get processed into the neocortex during sleep, creating long-term memories. Sleep helps consolidate the new information we learn into our permanent knowledge bank. Without proper sleep it becomes harder to retain what we’ve just learned.
When you sleep your brain also gets a much needed deep clean cycle, where it flushes away waste, similar to how the body's lymphatic system works (click here to see a video about it). This cycle is extremely important and only happens when you sleep. Without this toxin flush, the brain will reduce the glucose sent to the prefrontal cortex (which is the part of the brain that rules rational thought) resulting in an increase of the “fight or flight” response. A human who is sleep deprived is more prone to aggressive behavior. In our species' past, this basic reaction would keep you safe from predators, however in today’s world, we need our brain to be able to process and solve complex problems readily and easily.
Lack of Sleep has been linked to:
- Lack of energy
- Impaired cognitive functioning known as “mental fogginess”
- Reduction in ability to reason leading to impulsive decision making
- Decreased attention span, focus, concentration, and ability to learn
- More intense emotions, moodiness, stress, anxiety & depression
- Increased aggression
- Reduction in ability to communicate
- Increased accidents
- Increased difficulty with weight loss
- Increased appetite for “sugar spike” junk foods, and coffee to try to balance the lower glucose levels in the brain
- Long term sleep deprivation can increase the chance of developing a chronic health condition or mental health disorder later in life
So How long should one sleep? Here is what the National Sleep Foundation says:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
- School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Adults (18+): 7-9 hours
Do you and your children get enough ZZZ every night? If not, I definitely suggest creating a sleep routine with your children. The regularity of a routine helps a child know when it's time to wind down. Get them to turn off their devices an hour and a half before bed. The light emitted from phones and other devices is known to trick the brain’s internal clock, causing it to stop the production of natural melatonin, the helpful sleep hormone. You can download apps that reduce this disruptive blue light, but it is even more effective to disconnect and even remove devices from bedrooms. Many teenagers get caught up texting into the wee hours of the night, while parents think they are resting. Who can resist checking a device at night when they see a light flash or hear a beep? It’s best to put a curfew on such behaviours while children are young, before it becomes a big topic to fight over as they go through their hormonal shifts as a teen.
Gordon Neufeld, author of “Hold on To You Kids” reminded parents in a recent local lecture, that electronics should be considered like “dessert”, not the main course. What a great analogy! Kids and teens need person to person contact with loving and caring adults, to fully develop and thrive.
I highly recommend discovering the perfect sleep routine for you and your family. Your kids will function at a higher level when their sleep needs are met. They will be better students, will be less grumpy and overall, they will be more balanced in life.
Until next time, sleep deeply and function fully.
Resthouse Sleep Solutions
126 Station Street, Duncan, BC, Canada V9L 1M7