This superb series from the McGill University Health Centre Journal that covers the importance of sleep during a child's preteen years....
A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book according to an old Irish proverb. Although the recommended dose of daily laughter for preteens is currently undetermined by medical science, most experts agree that these four to 12 year olds need at least ten hours of quality sleep each night. Many youngsters fall short of this minimum, however. The resulting fatigue often manifests as poor school grades and behavioural problems such as tantrums. A good night's sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, so how can we ensure that our children get the shut-eye they require?
Why we sleep has been debated for many years. Scientific research suggests that sleep assists leaning through the formation of memory and keeps the immune system in tiptop condition. Whatever the reasons for sleep, there is little doubt that this downtime is essential - many doctors regard it to be as important as eating and exercise to our overall health.
Although the amount of sleep required varies from person to person, most adults clock up seven to eight hours per night - sleeping away a staggering one third of our life. Children require even more sleep. Babies manage an extravagant 16 hours of sleep each day, preteens between 10 and 12 hours. "Sleep is incredibly important for children," says Dr. Denis Leduc, a pediatrician at the Royal Victoria Hospital site of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). "But some have difficulty falling sleep."
A common reason for sleeplessness in children is stress. If you thought children had little to worry about, you would be wrong. "Preteens deal with many life changes, such as starting school and the arrival of new siblings," explains Leduc. "For younger children, simply being separated from their parents can prevent sleep." Separation anxiety may seem trivial to most adults, but kids know that bedtime is when strange and scary monsters emerge from the shadows. "For toddlers, there is a fine line between reality and fantasy," confirms Leduc, and this vivid imagination can result in gripping dreams.
It is worth noting that children seem to dream more than adults. A fascinating study published in a 1966 issue of the journal Science documented a higher rate of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep - the sleep phase when dreams occur - in newborns than in the college students.
If a fear of the dark or nightmares is keeping your child awake, keep these dos and don'ts in mind. "A scared child can develop pretty novel excuses to get their parents to stay with them at night," says Leduc. "Parents should try not to give in to their child's demands for company." Lying down with the child may seem like the easiest solution, but this can develop into dependent behaviour that is difficult to break in the future.
Another surprising 'don't' is the old trick of counting sheep - it simply doesn't work. Although the idea behind sheep counting is intuitively appealing - repetitive processes numb the mind and bore you to sleep - scientific studies conducted on insomniacs at Oxford University suggest that you are better off doing nothing at all. The research showed that subjects fell asleep much faster when picturing a relaxing image, like a quiet meadow or a beach.
Leduc concurs, "It may seem like common sense, but keeping your child relaxed at bedtime is the best way to help them sleep." This works for both the mind and body. "Not surprisingly, children who watch television or play computer games before bed commonly have more trouble getting to sleep or suffer nightmares," says Leduc. The best strategy for a good night's sleep is to set and adhere to a regular bedtime schedule. "Eliminate television, wrestling and other sleep disruptive activities for at least two hours prior to bed," suggests Leduc. "Read a bedtime story, talk about your day and never underestimate the benefit of a teddy bear."
- Ian Popple