How to Enhance Your Children's Learning with a Better Night’s Sleep January 07 2012

As a parent, you do all you can to give your child a good night's sleep. The mattress is comfortable, the room is warm and the decor is soothing. Parents know that rested kids are happy kids, but did you also know that making sure your child gets enough sleep could actually enhance their ability to learn?

IQ, Learning and Sleep

Sleep is so important to a child's ability to learn that even 30 minutes extra can make a huge difference. The results of an experiment done with 11 to 12-year-old children revealed that if kids lost 30 minutes sleep every night over three days, their performance in school was more like that of a 9 to 10-year-old. Tests have also shown that around 35 minutes of sleep each night stands between A grade students and D grade students.

Allowing children to stay up later on weekends can also be detrimental to their development. The change in bedtime disrupts the routine and makes it harder for kids to get back into a good sleep routine during the week. Studies done at Brown University in America have shown that every hour of lost sleep at the weekend causes a loss of seven points on a standardised school test.

How Much Sleep?

Studies by the Sleep Foundation have shown that different age groups require different amounts of sleep and that the need for sleep decreases as children mature. Toddlers from one to three years need between 12 and 14 hours of sleep during a 24-hour cycle and this will probably be made up of normal night time sleep and naps during the day. Children between the ages of five and 12 years need 10 to 11 hours of sleep, with the number gradually decreasing as they go through their teen years.

The Problems

Children are often over stimulated just before bed and find it hard to switch off. Very young children may be afraid of 'missing something' and force themselves to stay awake long beyond the point at which they feel tired. This results in overactive or hyperactive-type behaviour where the child appears wide awake but is actually exhausted. Children can easily reach the stage where they're literally too tired to sleep.

The Solutions

Many parents have difficulty in getting children into bed at a reasonable time, but in order to maximise their child's alertness during the day, encouraging kids to sleep is vital. Known as 'optimal alertness', kids who've had the correct number of hours of sleep are at their most receptive and can most easily absorb learning.

Establishing a routine at bedtime is one way of combating the problem, as is encouraging quiet pastimes an hour before bedtime. You can try making it a rule that all televisions and computer games are switched off and mobile phones are out of reach. The final hour before bedtime should be a time to unwind and relax away from the external stimulation of electronic gadgets.

Children who still enjoy a bedtime story will appreciate being tucked in with a favourite toy while you read them a familiar story. Make it a happy or funny story and one that's not too exciting or scary. The idea is to calm and relax the child rather than stimulate them.

Every parent wants their child to do as well as possible in school. Ensuring the child gets the proper amount of uninterrupted sleep each night, in a comfortable bed and a quiet, darkened room is one of the best ways of helping your child reach their full learning potential.