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How Does Sleep Affect Success at School?


If your preschooler isn't getting the recommended 10-12 hours of total sleep daily, he should be. Research shows that even a one-hour deficit for children 3 and under might cause long-lasting behavioural and cognitive problems when they start elementary school. "Parents need to pay as much attention to sleep as they do to nutrition and other health issues," says Parents adviser Judith Owens, M.D., coauthor of "Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep". Here's how skimping on sleep affects preschool success.


Attention Problems

When a child has difficulty listening to detailed instructions or focusing on planned activities or is slow to react to a question, lack of sleep is often the culprit. It also inhibits time management and task prioritization, Dr. Judith Owens says. Because of this, the child might miss out on information learned at school.


Reduced Cognitive Functioning

If your preschooler has trouble describing a painting she made at school, she could benefit from more sleep. A 1998 study published in Sleep journal showed that just one night of insufficient sleep impaired verbal creativity and abstract thinking in children. "The ability to spontaneously come up with words was compromised," Dr. Judith Owens says.


Dulled Memory

A good night's sleep keeps your little one's brain fresh and helps him retain information. When paired with slow-wave sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep -- the stage where dreaming occurs -- plays an essential role in memory consolidation, Dr. Judith Owens says. When your preschooler learns a new colour or the words to a new song at school, REM sleep helps to solidify this information in her brain. "Almost everything preschoolers learn is new," she says.


Hyperactive Behaviour

When your little one feels fatigued during the day, he won't yawn or doze off like you do -- he'll start bouncing off the wall. Why? Preschoolers "tend to get wired," Dr. Judith Owens says. "They get hyper and irritable." And if they can't sit still, they'll have a harder time learning.


Emotional Outbursts

Irritability, constant crying, temper tantrums, zero patience: Preschoolers who skimp on sleep are much less able to control their emotions. As a result, moodiness might affect their social standing with their peers. "If they're aggressive and oppositional with other kids, it impacts social interaction," Dr. Judith Owens says.


Attendance Issues

Sleep deprivation might weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infection and disease. It also shifts the balance of hormones in the body -- particularly essential growth hormones, Dr. Judith Owens says. And although it's not proven, this could cause your little one to get sick more frequently, resulting in missed school days.


Good, Sound Sleep for Your Child


Making sure your child gets good, sound sleep ensures he or she will have a sound foundation for proper mind and body development.


Sleep is no less important than food, drink, or safety in the lives of children. Although this may seem apparent, many of us actually do not allow our children to get the critical sleep they need to develop and function properly.


It's certainly not something we do on purpose. As a matter of fact, we often don't think much of it, and that is the problem. With parents working long hours, schedules packed with school, after-school activities, and other lifestyle factors, naps are missed, bedtimes are pushed back, mornings start earlier and nights may be anything but peaceful. Missing naps or going to bed a little late may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It all adds up, with consequences that may last a lifetime.


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To understand the critical nature of sleep to our children's growth and development, we need to understand more about what sleep does, what healthy sleep is, and what happens when children do not get either the right amount of sleep, the best quality sleep, or both. We also need to understand the role sleep plays in being alert or drowsy, stressed or relaxed, and how that in turn may affect temperament, learning, and social behavior.


In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,Marc Weissbluth, MD, provides these insightful comments on the functions of sleep:


"Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain's battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best."

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