How Is Lost Sleep Affecting Your Child?
Sleep: it’s important! A lot of us don’t get as much as we’d like, and waking up hour after hour to console your infant can create an awful sleep deficit.
Growing kids suffer that much more from a deficit in sleep – according to NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, losing 15 minutes of sleep can lower a child’s performance in school incredibly! Bronson and Merryman write, “Tired children can’t remember what they just learned, for instance, because neurons lose their plasticity, becoming incapable of forming the new synaptic connection necessary to encode a memory.” It was honestly shocking to read, being someone who doesn’t get all the sleep I probably need myself.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that 90% of parents in America believe their child is getting enough sleep. What parents don’t know is that compared to 30 years ago, the average kindergartener is sleeping about half an hour less a night. People tend to focus on the consistency and length of their infant’s sleep – and who can blame them, it means more sleep for everyone involved! – but beyond preschool, parents are putting less and less emphasis on it.
Dr. Monique LeBourgeois of Brown University studies sleep in prekindergarteners, and she found that even because of shifting sleep patterns, like letting your little one stay up later on weekends, the simple shift in the child’s sleep pattern costs him or her 7 points on a standard IQ test per every lost hour of sleep. Dr. Paul Suratt used the typical “vocab test” to study the effect of lost sleep in elementary schoolers, and he also found that there was a 7 point difference in IQ per every hour of lost sleep.
Dr. Avi Sadeh from Tel Aviv University also conducted an experiment related to lost sleep, but on 77 fourth and sixth grade kids. They were each randomly told to either go to bed earlier or later for three nights in a row. We all know that not every minute of sleep is real sleep, so Dr. Sadeh had each child wear an actigraph on his or her wrist which monitored their actual sleep time. There was about an hour gap of lost or gained sleep in between the two groups. Once the three nights had passed, the children were given a test of neurobiological functioning, showing their attentiveness in class and test score capability. This test showed even more of an effect than Dr. Sadeh expected: the children who lost sleep performed as if they were two grades below their current grade! That means that the sixth graders performed like fourth graders on the test, just because of the hour gap of true sleep. Similarly, the children who gained sleep over the three days performed excellently, two years ahead of their classes. Dr. Sadeh quoted, “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to (the loss of) two years in cognitive maturation and development.”
Obviously, many parents let their kids stay up late on weekends or watch movies with the family when they finish all their homework. Is this wrong? I would say it’s up to the parents, and I personally would agree with them that giving your child a treat like that once in a while is a good thing. (Remember how great it felt when you were allowed to stay up a little later as a kid? We don’t want kids to be deprived of fun family memories!) I think that a better conclusion to come to is that parents need to establish good sleep habits early. These sleep schedules will prevent bigger issues as their children grow, like sudden slipping grades and even depression and perhaps ADHD.
So how should you start enforcing good sleep habits? The National Sleep Foundation recommends that at 8-12 weeks old, a sleep schedule should be put into place where bedtime and naps occur at about the same time a day. Also, try and make the schedule fit with your baby’s natural schedule, so it’s easy for him or her to adjust to. Make sure you have a nice pre-bedtime ritual like reading stories, singing, or bath time.
Also, putting your baby down when he or she is “drowsy” instead of fully asleep can be helpful, because babies are made to develop self-soothing skills. These skills can prevent them from needing you when they wake up 2-6 times a night. For instance, if you rock your baby to sleep, he or she might need you to do that during the night whenever he or she wakes. Parents often don’t know that babies can calm themselves!
As mommies and daddies, I’m sure you can agree that more sleep for your little one means more sleep for you, and who can complain about that?