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Dispelling Some Sleep Myths



Our recent time change provides a good reason to think about sleep and some of the lore surrounding nocturnal happenings. We all know that lack of sleep affects our mood, our concentration, and our ability to react with equanimity to difficult happenings in our day.


Research shows that short sleep duration in children not only impacts their behavior and ability to learn, but also their brain development. Surprisingly, the age group at most risk for a less-than-ideal amount of sleep is children six to 12 years old, when the recommendation is for nine to 12 hours. (Read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ sleep recommendations.)


The advent of more light in the evening gives us an opportunity to think collectively about children’s sleep and recognize when we can make changes to make sure they get the restoration they need.


Myth 1: When it gets dark later, children should change bedtimes. The experts say “No!” Children should keep the same nighttime and nap routines, though initially it may take them a little longer to fall asleep.


Myth 2: Children who are tired act sleepy. Have you ever felt "wired’ when you didn’t get enough sleep? Children are often more active when they haven’t slept enough, though they are less capable of paying attention. Night routines don’t have to involve less light, but they should include much less stimulation and lots of soothing togetherness.


Myth 3: Sleeping with parents makes children less independent. This is definitely a cultural myth. In China, where mothers commonly sleep with their babies, sudden unexpected infant death syndrome is virtually unknown. There are crucial safety rules for sleeping with babies, but fostering independence isn’t the issue. (See AAP’s guidelines for safe sleep in infants.)


Myth 4: Older children are too old for naps. In many countries, adults and older children take naps every day. When your child is tired, suggest a nap, or take a siesta as a family.


Myth 5: There are no long-term effects of getting by on less sleep. Children who get less sleep than they need are more prone to childhood obesity. Adults who routinely get less sleep may be cutting years off their life span.


Of course, everyone’s sleep needs are individual, but it’s important to track sleep and its effects on our bodies at every age. Children will push us to stay up later, especially when stimulated by TV or other electronic devices.


You can become a good role model for taking care of sleep needs by being diligent about getting enough rest and commenting how good you feel when you are fully restored.

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