With the start of the new school year, routines are taking shape. Youngsters are assembling the complex puzzle in which homework, activities, sports, social life and family time compete for a limited number of hours in the day. Frequently it seems there’s not enough time to do it all, that something’s got to give. What often gives? Our children’s sleep.
Cutting corners when it comes to sleep is more hazardous to our kids’ welfare than most parents realize. We may be so accustomed to playing fast and loose with sleep — we often compromise our own as we go about our over-scheduled lives — that we’ve lost perspective on our children’s need for sleep.
What scientists have come to understand is that during sleep, the brain consolidates what’s been learned during waking hours, making that learning accessible later on. In other words, studying for tomorrow’s test is more effective when it’s followed by a good night’s sleep. It’s as though the sleep process stores new learning in a kind of mental hard drive, where that learning proves easier to recall when needed.
This isn’t just about book learning. Sufficient sleep has been found to improve focus and concentration, whether the task is academic, athletic, or the pleasures of a hobby or simple pastime. Sleep has been called “food for the brain,” providing a kind of essential fuel for optimal functioning in every way. It enables persistence and perseverance, making it easier to tackle a math worksheet, a tennis serve or a tricky interpersonal situation with a group of friends. Insufficient sleep has been associated with negative mood, inconsistent performance and productivity, and poor behavioral self-control.1
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amounts of sleep for children and teens:2
1-3 years old = 12-14 hours of sleep
3-5 years old = 11-13 hours of sleep
5-12 years old = 10-11 hours of sleep
12-18 years old = 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep
It’s easy to look away when our children sacrifice sleep for the activities we particularly value, like academics and athletics, especially knowing they’re apt to kick up a fuss if we dare declare “lights out.” But as a foundation of their overall welfare, adequate sleep is a battle worth taking on.