Like, how much sleep do they REALLY need? The importance of sleep for young learners is one of THE biggest factors when it comes to their life in the classroom the next day.
Sleep. The gateway to all things magical during waking hours!
I don't think parents realize how much sleep kids need and how the lack of sleep affects a child's learning processes. I can't count how many times I've had this conversation:
Me: Mrs. —–, Johnny has been falling asleep in class / acting out/ not focusing and I'm concerned.
Mrs. —-: I don't know why. He is in bed at 10:00 every night.
Me (in my head): Oh dear. TEN P.M.? As in, at night? When the news comes on? Seriously? This. Blows. My. Mind.
The first week of school, I send home a letter to my parents about the importance of sleep. Maybe they really don't know why sleep is important. Maybe they've never seen the chart on Pinterest. I just need everyone involved in that child's life to know that I can't teach kids who are not present, and by present, I mean participating in each moment.
I know that when I'm tired, I mentally check out. Now imagine being a five year old with an already short attention span. This is why sleep is important. You are fighting a losing battle when you begin the day with a tired child. It's not their fault, though. They can only give you what they have. You can't expect 100% when they walk in the door with only 50% to give. Bless their hearts. They get on all of your nerves, and you pull at their heart strings when they are in trouble ALL. THE. TIME. They don't know why they can't fully function and certainly don't know how to verbalize what they need, so they act out. Or they don't act out and fall asleep instead.
Just Say “No”
Sleep deprivation leads to irritability, frustration, and difficulty paying attention. Without enough sleep, the smallest amount of stress can seem like a mountain instead of a hill. We understand what we need as adults. We know we don't function without rest, so why do we not hold this in high regard for our children? School is already scary enough without kids feeling tired all the time. Do they really need to watch another episode of their favorite show or play one more video game? The answer is no. All day. Every day. No. If you are the type of parent that struggles with “no,” please understand that you are saying no to so much more than an extra hour of television. You are saying no to learning more at school. You are saying no to your child's ability to be patient and respond best in stressful circumstances. You are saying no to their achievements when the lack of “no” wins over sleep.
Real talk. Saying no in the right circumstance is okay. As parents, it's our job to do what's best, and that's not always going to please our children. We are getting into a spiral with parenting where we want to give our kids free choice and independence, but that is not always developmentally appropriate, and they don't have the stamina yet to compete with adults.
So how can you help? First, you need to know what doctors recommend for your child.
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
As parents, it’s up to us to help our children get the right amount of sleep. Not just sleep, but quality sleep. In order to be successful with this, children need a regular bedtime. Routine and procedures are so important for everything in a child's life. Children thrive with structure!
I let my kids stay up later on the weekends but only if I know they can sleep later the next day. I know with my own children that they will be beasts without enough sleep, and it will affect EVERY part of our day. Ain't nobody got time for that!
Understanding a child's sensory needs is important, too. When a child is over stimulated, they will not get good sleep. Watching television, playing video games, and other similar activities should be limited before bedtime. Just like you need downtime to unwind your brain, so do they. They've got to stop those wheels from turning and close a few tabs in their brain before they can unwind enough to rest effectively.
Tips for Restful Sleep
Try to keep distractions to a minimum in the bedroom. Electronics are a roadblock to good sleep for people of any age. We are programming our brains to always stay plugged in, but those are bad habits. I know when I've woken up in the middle of the night that I've checked my email or clicked on Facebook. I'm learning how much I depend on my connections to the outside world and that isn't healthy. These are habits I do not want my children to develop, especially at such a young age.
We are losing our ability to function without some sort of stimulant. Try and keep your child's bedroom dark and quiet, if they aren't scared. Train their brain to know the importance of feeling that peace and being relaxed without craving a stimulant (such as technology).
I realize that all of this is challenging, but my kids are ages 15, 17, and 19. My youngest has a 9:00 bedtime on nights with no sports. The other two have a 10:00 bedtime. This is not because I'm trying to be strict or mean. It's because I understand for them to do their best, their bodies need good sleep. When my youngest stays up after getting home late due to sports, you better believe the next morning is no fun.
As parents, we need to not feel guilty by setting schedules and boundaries for our children. A great day is worth more than an extra hour of video games the night before. I promise. And as a teacher, I appreciate you taking one for the team and making sure when your child enters my classroom, they are awake and ready to learn everything I've spent countless hours preparing. Just like you hope that when I am at school, I am awake, alert and present in every moment, I need your child to be, also.
So how much sleep do kids need? The answer varies depending on the age of your child, but no matter what, we've got to work together for the success of your child. That success starts with a good night’s sleep.