Skip To Main Content
Sleep, Precious Sleep
Meg Bamford | Head of Miriam School and Learning Center


Miriam families, I am continuing my focus on sleep as we head towards daylight savings next weekend. I am not sure about your family, but with mine, the week after we set the clocks ahead was always a doozy!

Often students who are sleep deprived (even minimally) can struggle in school with issues with alertness and attention, poor decision making, mood regulation, cognitive performance, resiliency, and could have a weakened immune system. I think our students who already struggle with learning and thinking challenges are even more vulnerable to the time change.

In fact, the American Medical Association, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Academy of Pediatrics consider chronic sleep loss in adolescents to be a public health problem. It is a risk factor for substance abuse and mental health problems, as well as more immediate problems such as car crashes and sports injuries.

We know everyone needs to sleep and everyone's body is different. However, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers us these guidelines:

  • Infants to a year: 12-16 hours per day including naps,
  • Toddlers to 2 years: 12-14 hours including naps,
  • 3 years to 5 years:10-13 hours,
  • 6 years to 12 years: 9-12 hours,
  • 13 years to 18 years: 8-10 hours.

(By the way, adults should try to sleep between 7-9 hours per night.)

One of the best ways to help our children get a solid night's sleep is to create a really predictable bedtime routine. Sleep strategies require time and patience to work. Here are some ideas for helping your child have a good night's sleep:

  • Create a soothing bedroom routine that is about 20-30 minutes of quiet activities. This will provide your child with a sense of familiarity and comfort. It will act as a mechanism to have them begin to transition to sleep.

When my kids were little, we used to religiously follow these steps:

  1. Bath,
  2. Pajamas,
  3. Towels (hung up),
  4. Teeth,
  5. Bed,
  6. Book, (sometimes read aloud, sometimes read silently, or it was an audiobook)
  7. Sleep.

Sometimes it seemed frivolous to have a (mostly) clean child take a bath, but the nights when we skipped "tubby time", were most often the nights that our children couldn't fall asleep.

  • Maintain a consistent bedtime as much as possible that can allow time for your child to wind down so they can independently transition from being awake- to feeling sleepy- to falling asleep on their own.
     
  • Avoid feeding your child sugary choices before bed. Be sure not to let them ingest caffeine 6 hours before bedtime (or better yet, don't give it to your child at all, even a little caffeine can have a large effect on a small body).
     
  • Make sure electronics are turned off and (if possible) removed from the room, so there is no late-night temptation to play video games, text, or watch television. One suggestion I have is to implement a "screen curfew" because children may be particularly vulnerable to the blue light given off by screens which actually suppresses our natural melatonin. Furthermore, screen time can stimulate the brain, making it harder to wind down.
     
  • Avoid letting your child watch or read content that is scary or violent before bedtime. Feeling worried or scared are the top reasons children give us for not being able to fall asleep.
     
  • Create a good sleep environment for your child with the following recommendations:
    • We sleep better in a cooler room. The optimal room temperature for sleeping is recommended to be about 65 degrees.
    • For our students with ADHD or sensory processing disorders, a heavier comforter, tightly tucked in sheets or a weighted blanket helps their body to relax to be able to enter sleep mode.
    • Try to make the room as dark as possible (if your child is scared of the dark, a small nightlight is fine).
    • Eliminate noise or consider using a white noise machine or even a fan to drown out distracting noises

I think that the time change offers us the promise of a wonderfully active Spring ahead of us at Miriam. The time to focus on positive bedtime routines is now.

Wishing you sleep-filled nights and joy-filled days.

Gratitude

Wishing you a very happy holiday season! The holidays of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa this month offer a sense of seasonal joy, hope, community, tradition and affirmation of what is truly important. We long for family and friends to create sweet moments together and reminisce on times gone by.

Read More about In the News: How one St. Louis nonprofit educational organization supports students with learning disabilities (opens in new window/tab)