Success in school impacts our children in a variety of ways. We do so many things to give our kids an academic edge during their years in school. We help them with their homework, sign them up for athletics and encourage them to read. Yet, despite our best intentions, we often overlook simple strategies that impact learning, such as making sure our kids get enough sleep.
A lack of sleep seriously affects the ability to learn, focus and perform at school. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that one in three kids is sleep-deprived and that roughly 90 percent of parents believe their kids are getting plenty of sleep, though they’re not.
Sleep deprived children and teens are more likely to visit the nurse’s office with com- plaints of headache, stomach ache and general irritability. Often a student will simply say to me: “Mrs. Ramsden, I’m just too tired to be in school today. I stayed up late, can I please go home?”
There are some surprisingly simple solutions that parents can use to help children get a good night’s sleep and improve their academic success. The trick is to create a bedtime routine tailored to your child’s age, temperament, daily after-school schedule and sleep needs, and then to have a willingness to consistently stick to that routine each and every week.
For younger children, it’s important to begin the process of getting ready for bed 30-60 minutes before tucking them in. This wind-down time helps calm the younger child. It also helps to minimize the, “No, I’m not going to bed!” battle. For example, use a picture book showing the sequence of bedtime events. Create a going-tobed ritual including a light snack, bath and a bedtime story. These daily rituals are predictable and comforting to younger children.
Most important, stick to that same nightly routine every night until it becomes a habit that your young child can count on, even when visiting grandma’s house or staying at a hotel.
Teens need a wind-down ritual too. Teens and pre-teens are pretty busy these days. They are wired from stress, sports, studying, cramped schedules and other worries. Like many adults, it’s tough for them to instantly drift off when the lights go out.
If you think your teen needs some extra time to wind down, he or she probably does. Encourage your teen to get homework done as early as possible. Other things that can help a teen wind down include writing in a journal, taking a shower or bath, or reading.
The trick with teens is to involve them in the discovery of what works best for them. Ensuring that same bedtime ritual is carried out every night will help them relax.
It may be tempting to allow a younger child or a teen to relax in front of the television, play a video game or the computer before bed, especially if that TV show, Web page or video game is created just for that age child. The American Academy of Pediatrics says: Don’t do it!
A great deal is known about how TV, video games and computer use affects sleep, weight, grades, behavior and more in children. Dr. Matt Bianchi, a sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School, says the problem is that light exposure from the TV or computer screen before sleep can disrupt body rhythms and suppress the release of the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep.
What you eat also affects how you sleep. Having a snack before bedtime aids sleep -- but be careful to keep the snack small, as a full meal right before bed will likely cause stomach discomfort, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Knowing what foods help and hinder sleep may be the key to your child’s feeling rested and ready to tackle the school day. Dairy foods contain tryptophan, a substance in some foods that promotes sleep. Foods high in fat will not only cause you to gain weight but have been shown to disrupt sleep.
Foods high in protein are not the best bedtime snack choice either. Proteins are difficult to digest, so skip the chicken breast and choose a sleep-friendly carbohydrate like a serving of whole wheat crackers and some cheese or cereal.
The complexity of health issues confronting today’s students is a direct result of schools having to face enormous pressure to improve academic skills. A rich body of research confirms a direct link between student health and educational outcomes. Practical strategies that can have an impact on learning, such as improving sleep, are among the many goals that parents can choose to work on at home.
I hope I have given you at least one new idea about how to help your child get a better night’s sleep. Good night now!
Melissa Ramsden is the school nurse for Port Aransas ISD.