From Zzz To A

By Ven Griva

June 6, 2008 5 min read

FROM ZZZ TO A

Teachers, experts give nod to importance of sleep

By Ven Griva

Copley News Service

What's the one simple thing parents can do that will improve their children's performance in school? Make sure they get enough sleep.

Sleep is essential to a child's health and growth, child health experts say. It promotes alertness, memory and performance.

"Just staying up late can cause increased academic difficulty and attention problems for otherwise healthy, well-functioning kids," said Gahan Fallone, a researcher at Brown University and Bradley Hospital in Providence, R.I.

Fallone and colleagues performed a first-of-its-kind study on elementary and middle-school students in Rhode Island. In the study, teachers were not told the amount of sleep students received when completing weekly performance reports.

Yet teachers participating in the study rated students who had received eight hours or less as having the most trouble recalling old material, learning new lessons and completing high-quality work. Teachers also reported that these students had more difficulty paying attention.

"So the results provide professionals and parents with a clear message: When a child is having learning and attention problems, the issue of sleep has to be on the radar screen," Fallone said.

The study results were published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent News.

It has been documented in a handful of major published scientific studies that children, from elementary school through high school, get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago.

Many things are blamed for this trend. The overscheduling of activities for children, burdensome homework regimens, unenforced bedtimes, and televisions, computers and cell phones in bedrooms.

Parents' busy schedules are also suspected. Parents who routinely arrive home late from work want to spend time with their children and are reluctant to play the disciplinarian who orders them to bed.

Yet that is exactly what children need, experts say. Children who get enough sleep are more likely to function better in school and are less prone to behavioral problems and moodiness.

Sleep is an important part of learning, experts say. When we sleep our brains process the information we have acquired during the day.

Children age 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep. But society seems to be working against them.

School-age children become more interested in television, computers, the media and Internet as well as caffeine products - all of which can lead to difficulty falling asleep, nightmares and disruptions to their sleep. In particular, watching television close to bedtime has been associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep and sleeping fewer hours.

The National Sleep Foundation offers the following sleep tips for children age 5 to 12:

- Make bedtime the same time every night.

- Make bedtime a positive and relaxing experience without television, videos, computers or video games. According to one recent study, television viewing prior to bed can lead to difficulty falling and staying asleep.

- Save your child's favorite relaxing, non-stimulating activities until last and have them occur in the child's bedroom.

- Keep the bedtime environment - light and temperature, for example - the same all night long.

Studies show that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21 need 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep each night. However, changes adolescents experience as they enter puberty and young adulthood make it hard for them to fall asleep in the evening, and difficult to wake up in the morning.

It's not that your adolescent children are lazy, experts say. It is a natural part of growing up. The National Sleep Foundation offers the following sleep tips for teenagers:

- Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which are stimulants, after noon.

- Avoid alcohol, which can disrupt sleep.

- Avoid heavy studying or computer games before bed, they can be arousing.

- Avoid trying to sleep with a computer or television flickering in the room.

- Avoid bright light in the evening, such as that emitted by TV and computer screens.

- Open blinds or turn on lights as soon as the morning alarm goes off to aid awakening.

- It's OK to sleep in on weekends, but no more than two or three hours later than usual or it will disrupt your body clock.

? Copley News Service

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