Sleep: The Secret Weapon for School Success: Part 2
By GreatSchools Staff
Lack of sleep is linked to a multitude of problems
Several studies presented at Sleep 2007, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, highlighted some of the adverse effects caused by lack of sleep - aggressive behavior and bullying, poor grades, poor attention span, disruptions in cognitive and linguistic function including the skills necessary for reading and language development. A few scientists theorize that sleep problems at a young age can cause permanent changes in a child's brain structure.
Lack of sleep may be the cause of behavior problems
Sometimes lack of sleep will be the reason behind temper tantrums, morning meltdowns and irritable behavior. Your child may not be able to tell you that's the problem and you may not see it because a tired child may become a wired child-full of energy. "It's as though their body is out of control," says Kurcinka. "And it is."
Kurcinka says parents need to set limits on extracurricular activities and computer time, and become advocates at their school for reducing the amount of homework, and encouraging schools to adopt later start times.
More and more children lack sleep — a disturbing trend
Kurcinka argues that lack of sleep among children is more common now than ever before and attributes this trend to three factors: science, safety and achievement.
"Science - The research on early brain development and the importance of brain stimulation has meant kids are overstimulated starting at a young age. They begin by watching 'Baby Einstein' videos and continue from there. Safety-parents are afraid to let kids go out and play so they provide more structured activities which tend to be organized around adult hours and schedules. Achievement-so much is competitive and overly achievement oriented for kids, from soccer to gymnastics to academics."
To counter these factors, Kurcinka says, parents should "create an environment that values sleep and is conducive to it. The bottom line is that parents of children who are successful have a secret weapon - they protect their kids' sleep. Kids who get more sleep have higher grade-point averages. In a study reported in the journal, Child Development, in 2003 entitled 'The Effects of Sleep Restriction and Extension on School-Age Children: What a Difference an Hour Makes,' Tel Aviv University researcher Avi Sadeh found that even 41 minutes less sleep each night can affect memory and attention."
Managing sleep patterns begins in the morning
Kurcinka says managing sleep problems and controlling stress levels begins in the morning by making time for a peaceful family breakfast. She sees it as a way to take time to sit and talk, to "check in" and connect with your child. By starting the day without rushing, you set a calm tone for the rest of the day.
Avoiding bedtime battles
To avoid bedtime battles at night, Kurcinka advocates establishing a calming, predictable bedtime routine attuned to your child's needs that will help her wind down. In her book, Sleepless in America, she compares the process of getting your child to bed to landing a jumbo jet:
"Landing a jumbo jet is not a simple process. Miles from their destination, the pilots begin to prepare. They check the weather, determine which runway to utilize, the level of instrumentation to use on approach as well as the optimal speed. Once those decisions are made, they start to configure the aircraft appropriately…What the crew is trained to know is that conscientious preparation and a gradual descent lead to a soft landing and satisfied customers. When it comes to bedtime, most children are like those jumbo jets. Their days are often spent 'flying' from one activity to another, and they need to gradually 'glide' from the 'high' of their day to a 'soft landing' in bed."
Spending 20 minutes with your child before bedtime in a soothing activity, such as reading, quietly catching up on the day's activities, or telling stories, can help provide the calm that will help your child transition to going to sleep. Adjusting the routine, depending on your child's mood and needs, (just as the pilot adjusts the plane's landing pattern depending on the weather) will help, too. Some days kids just need a little more connection and attention.