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Waking Up to the Importance of Sleep

Sleep. I never used to think much about it. Then I had kids and I started obsessing over how many hours of sleep they are getting a night. I knew it was important for my children even if I couldn’t be more specific than “it’s important for their growth and development”.

Then I learned just how important. Even the loss of one hour of sleep a night can make a sixth grader function at the level of a fourth grader. If our children aren’t sleeping enough, it affects:

  • school performance – learning, memory, creativity and motor skills performance.
  • mental health – depression, suicide and substance abuse.
  • physical health – obesity, heart disease, diabetes, headaches, and death.
  • social ability – more negative, more selfish, less empathy, difficulty resolving conflict.

If you want to know more about the benefits of sleep, read this: 20 Incredible Benefits Of Sleep That Make You Superhuman

As the kids grow older, we relax a little. We start to put sleep aside for other “more important things”, like the extra activities they want to fit into their day, that exam they need to study for, the assignment they forgot to complete, or that presentation for tomorrow. If something needs doing and time is short, sleep is the first thing that gets cut to make more time.

In a bid to increase awareness of just how vital it is to get enough sleep – even for older kids, we had a workshop at school on “Waking Up to the Importance of Sleep”. The following are notes from the workshop including annotations from me.

Are You Sleeping Enough?

The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is an easy way to check whether you’re sleeping enough at night. All you have to do is complete a short questionnaire with 8 questions, rating the following:

  • 0 = would never doze
  • 1 = slight chance of dozing
  • 2 = moderate chance of dozing
  • 3 = high chance of dozing

Rate the following situations according to the likelihood that you would fall asleep using the scale above:

  1. Sitting and reading
  2. Watching TV
  3. Sitting, inactive in a public place (e.g. a theatre or a meeting)
  4. As a passenger in a car for an our without a break
  5. Lying down to rest in the afternoon when circumstances permit
  6. Sitting and talking to someone
  7. Sitting quietly after a lunch without alcohol
  8. In a car, while stopped for a few minutes in traffic

Add up your score and compare it to the list below to determine what it means:

  • 0-5 Lower normal daytime sleepiness
  • 6-10 Higher normal daytime sleepiness
  • 11-12 Mild excessive daytime sleepiness
  • 13-15 Moderate excessive daytime sleepiness
  • 16-24 Severe excessive daytime sleepiness

How did you go?

How does sleep impact our children’s behaviour for learning?

Here’s what the research has shown…

Lack of sleep affects how well kids do in school:

  1. Poor sleep has an adverse impact on areas of the brain thus negatively impacting on an individual’s alertness and attention span – Alhola & Polo-Kantola, 2007.
  2. The working memory and memory consolidation of both children and adolescents is facilitated by sleep – Kopasz et al., 2010.
  3. Poor sleep quality has been found to impact on academic achievement at every educational level – O’Malley & O’Malley, 2008.
  4. Chronic sleep reduction in adolescents is linked to impaired daytime functioning, including attention problems and worse school performance – Dewald-Kaufmann, Oort, Bögels & Meijer, 2013.
  5. The implementation of a sleep programme in three elementary schools in Quebec led to improved achievement in maths and English – Gruber, Somerville, Bergmame, Fontil and Paquin, 2016.
  6. Students with lower grades reported increased daytime sleepiness – Curcio, Ferrara, & De Gennaro, 2006.
  7. Drake, Nickel, Burduvali, Roth, Jefferson, & Badia (2003) identified a relationship between daytime sleepiness and low school achievement, frequent absenteeism, reduced total sleep time, and regular illness.

Lack of sleep negatively impacts children’s behaviour:

  1. Dawson (2005) associates poor sleep quality with depressive symptoms, increased irritability, impatience, and low tolerance for frustration.
  2. Poor sleep has also be suggested as a potential causal factor in aggression and violence. (Kamphuis, Meerlo, Koolhaas & Lancel, 2012).
  3. Spilsbury, Drotar, Rosen and Redline (2007) suggest that daytime sleepiness is linked to behavioural problems, negative moods and difficulty controlling emotions.
  4. In addition to this, Carskadon (1990), identifies insufficient sleep as being linked to daytime sleepiness, which he associates with mood and behavioural problems.
  5. According to de Vreugd (2013), diurnal preference influences behaviour with evening orientated children considered more at risk of developing behavioral problems, which later result in poor school performances.
  6. This is also conveyed by Gent (2013) who suggested that evening preferences are particularly vulnerable to behavioral/emotional problems when they experience poor sleep quality/daytime sleepiness.

What time should our children go to bed?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, these are the new recommendations for hours of sleep we should be getting by age:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School-age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category) 

So what does that mean for parents when setting a suitable bedtime for our children? The following is a simplified recommendation according to age and the time your child needs to wake up in the morning.

3 to 5 years:

  • wake up at 5 am; bed time 7 pm
  • wake up at 6 am; bed time 8 pm
  • wake up at 7 am; bed time 9 pm

6 to 13 years:

  • wake up at 5 am; bed time 8 pm
  • wake up at 6 am; bed time 9 pm
  • wake up at 7 am; bed time 10 pm


  • wake up at 5 am; bed time 9 pm
  • wake up at 6 am; bed time 10 pm
  • wake up at 7 am; bed time 11 pm

Encouraging Good Sleep Habits

Sleep tips for kids
Image Source: Sleep for Kids
  • Maintain a regular and consistent sleep schedule – the same time every night where possible.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine in the hour before bed that ends in the room where the child sleeps. TV watching, homework/tuition or computer gaming should NOT be part of quiet time. Consider reading or hygiene routines.
  • Bedroom Environment: Make your child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool and quiet. Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom. Ideally, avoid using bedrooms for punishment. Warm and reassuring interactions before bed.
  • Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.
  • Avoid caffeine in late afternoon/evening – ice tea, carbonated drinks.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry – provide your child with a light snack before bed (milk, fruit, cereal.) A full meal shouldn’t be eaten in the two hours before bed.
  • Avoid long naps during the day.
  • Exercise daily – establishing healthy routines.

Easy bedtime rituals:

  • Read a book or magazine by a soft light
  • Take a warm bath
  • Listen to soft music
  • Do some easy stretches
  • Wind down with a favorite hobby
  • Listen to books on tape
  • Make simple preparations for the next day
  • Dim the lights in the hours leading up to bed

Great ideas for pre-bedtime snacks:

  • A warm glass of milk (plain milk – not sweetened!)
  • Plain oatmeal with banana
  • Apples slices with almond butter
  • Whole grain crackers with turkey and cheese
  • A banana with peanut butter
  • Hummus with celery and red pepper strips
  • Black beans with shredded cheese and avocado
  • Whole grain toast with peanut butter or a slice of cheese
  • Whole grain toast with a hard-boiled egg
  • An orange and some cashews
good snacks before sleep
Image Source: Cloud b

No heavy exercise 2 to 3 hours before bed, but you can incorporate some light exercise as part of a bedtime routine, like the following yoga moves:

Yoga to sleep better
Image Source: Livestrong

Technology and Bedtime

Research has found that the blue light emitted from our screens (TV, computers, hand-held devices) can delay the onset of sleep, reduce the quality of sleep, and affect wakefulness the morning after. It was previously recommended that we avoid using these devices 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

An added feature on newer devices now allows us to turn on a “nightshift” mode which cuts out the blue light emitted. This is supposed to negate the effect of the blue light and allow us to use our devices at night without worrying about its effect on our sleep. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, as the verge points out below:

While Night Shift may alleviate some eye strain, it doesn’t make clear what wavelengths are being cut. Nor is it clear what the optimal level of blue light for reducing side effects like eye strain and sleeplessness are. And since the filter is adjustable, it’s not clear that users who use Night Shift at low levels get any benefit at all.

In other words, although the concept of “night shift” makes sense, we still don’t really know if works. Additionally, anything we do before bedtime that is too stimulating (like playing a video game or watching an action movie) is still going to make it harder to sleep. For now, it seems like this is still the best advice to take:

The best way to fall asleep easily is the same as it ever was: don’t use your electronic devices late into the evening. Night Shift may help, but it’s not the magic solution for sweet dreams.

Morning Daylight Exposure

To help children fall sleep more easily and sleep well through the night, try to give them more exposure to daylight, especially in the morning.

Researchers found that people who were exposed to greater amounts of light during the morning hours, between 8 a.m. and Noon, fell asleep more quickly at night and had fewer sleep disturbances during the night compared to those exposed to low light in the morning. – Reuters

More recommendations for good sleep hygiene.

Recommended Apps

There are lots of great apps that can help our children with their sleeping habits. Here are some you can try out. The following apps can helps with relaxation:

These apps are useful for sleep tracking:


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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