Growing Children’s Brains In Their Sleep

From the day our children were born, and in the case of my step-son coming to live with us full time, we have insisted on a consistent bedtime routine. There were various reasons for why we developed the routine that is still in place today. The biggest reason though, was to ensure that our children knew how highly valued sleep was in our family. This is, in part, due to the fact that we have highly active children (in body and mind) and as such, they required a very clear indication from the adults in charge that there was a definitive difference between their awake time and the time they were expected to be sleeping. It also ensured that the household had both a time each day that was devoted to our children, and then refocused to ‘adult time’ in the evenings. Toys were packed away, destruction cleaned up and the tv channel safely tuned to programs not-for-little-people’s-eyes. Moments of sanity in a quiet house.

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We noticed from an early age that our children were far more responsive, curious and motivated with at least 11-12 hours sleep every single night. Our children also appeared to have an internal alarm clock rigidly set to 5.30am, no matter the time they went to sleep the night before. Because of this, we developed a bedtime routine that began with bath/shower time around 4-4.30pm. By the time bath, dinner and stories were read, the lights were out at 6pm.

It has amazed me, though, the surprise I am met with when I share that my children head to bed at this time. Later bedtimes for children particularly under 8 years of age seems to have been normalised. The idea that children are left to play, or stay up with the adults in the house until 8, 9 or 10pm when the adults retreat to bed is becoming increasingly common. So what, then, is the impact on these children in their brain development and growth when time asleep is becoming less than time awake?

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Ongoing research is now confirming that the amount of sleep a child has is as equally important as the type of diet and exercise they receive. Younger children need more sleep than older children, although teenagers return to needing a considerable number of hours as their bursts of growth needs are met. In general, children between the age of 5 and 11 years of age need between 10 and 12 hours sleep every night. Given that these children are usually making their way to school by 8am every morning, after a hearty breakfast and preparing their school bag, the need for 10-12 sleep would put their bedtime at approximately 6-7pm the night before. By having this quality sleep every night, children will be better prepared to face a busy school day filled with important learning and social interaction – the work of childhood. The weekend should not signal a change to this level of sleep required. Too often children arrive at school on a Monday morning almost in a ‘hung-over’ like state, as the lack of sleep hours received catches up with them.

It is not so simple as packing the children off to bed as the lights go out at 7pm, however. For children to have quality sleep a consistent bedtime routine is vital. This is a time of calming and quietening down, with the inevitable just round the corner. It is also potentially the most precious time of the day between parent and child. It can be that time when your child receives your undivided attention instead of commonly sharing it with their siblings. If, as parents, you are wanting to support the healthy growth and development of your child’s brain…….turn electronics off during this routine. Engage with your children over a story following a bath or shower and dinner. Allow your child’s brain to calm, rather than being overstimulated with the flashing screen of a TV or mobile device. Climb into bed alongside your child and model the joy of reading books with them. The key to the success of such a routine is its consistency. Do this Every. Single. Night.

Your children’s brains will be all the better for it.

For more information read the latest research here.

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