January 17

Time for bed: the benefits of a good night's sleep

Well-being, both physical and mental, is very a topical subject in schools and in the world beyond with advice and recommendations on nutrition and exercise to boost vitality and wellness. Within the GDST, head teachers have become familiar with the mantra of S.H.E.D. (sleep, hydration, nutrition and exercise) as a reminder of those key elements which need to be maintained to perform at an optimal level. For our children, the same message applies but particularly for them the benefits that a good night’s sleep provides are enormous.

While all children are obviously individuals, studies suggest that a Junior School aged child should be sleeping between 10 to 12 hours a night. During that time, the body physically repairs and rejuvenates; repairing tissue, boosting muscle mass and promoting a strong immune system. Research is clear that children sleeping well are far less likely to succumb to common colds or flu. A healthy sleep pattern also contributes to weight management with evidence established that children getting less than 10 hours sleep were three times as likely to become obese as those getting 12 hours or more.

We know as adults how a bad night’s sleep can make us grumpy and less than effective in the workplace; children are no different – if anything they will find the difficulty in regulating their emotions even more difficult, becoming irritable and forgetful. This can lead to low motivation in class, poor memory function and difficulty in learning. Every teacher learns very quickly to recognise the signs of a “sleep-over” – a misnomer if ever there was one!

Experts advise that a bed time routine is essential: avoid sugary snacks or fizzy drinks with caffeine, have a quiet time before bed, a warm bath followed by a story or reading. Bedrooms should not be too hot, screen time should stop at least an hour before going to bed. Try to have the discussion about the school day before your child is in bed. For so many working parents, tucking their child in at night is quite rightly a goal but if that is the only point when your child sees you the temptation for them will be to hold your attention and keep you there! This is often achieved by embellishing – or even creating – a dramatic event at school, raising their (and your own) anxiety levels and making sleep elusive. Rather than ask what happened at school, try asking what made them happy that day; lights out might still be deferred for a little but they will drift off with cheerful thoughts.

If sleep continues to be a major issue despite these best efforts it is always wise to seek medical advice but sometimes simple changes can have an impact. The good news is that establishing a healthy sleep pattern can show behavioural improvements within days. With 12 hours of sleep regularly enjoyed, I look forward to seeing the Junior School full of creative, problem-solving girls concentrating longer, remembering new things, making positive decisions and with more energy to do it all!


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