In our increasingly hectic world, counting sheep seems to be treated as a luxury, not a necessity. For children and adults alike, the importance of rested body and mind cannot be understated. This week, a teacher asks why so many children are coming to school underslept.
THIS WEEK’S PARENT TRAP
I’m writing about an issue that increasingly shows up in my classroom and, quite frankly, infuriates me. Many of my students cannot focus or manage in the class, not because they have ADHD or a learning problem, but because they simply haven’t had enough sleep. When I ask one of my yawning eight-year-olds what time they hit the hay, they either can’t remember or admit to having a 10 p.m. bedtime. I simply don’t understand why highly educated parents do not have the common sense to know the impact of sleep deprivation on learning. I understand that parents often have to work long hours in this very expensive city, and consequently bed times get pushed back later and later. But beyond sending home notices educating parents about the necessity of healthy amounts of sleep, what do you recommend I do?
— Troubled Teacher, Vancouver
YOUR TWO CENTS
Most schools put notices in their newsletters regarding sleep hours and parents don’t seem to think it applies to them. I think the best way to handle it is by approaching individual parents with the concerns. For example, “Mrs. Smith, I’ve noticed that Suzie has been nodding off in class. Is she having problems sleeping at night?” That takes any blame out of the approach. I know that when a teacher told me that my child seemed to be going through a growth spurt and didn’t seem full after his lunch, I was mortified!
— Vivian, Vancouver
Parents need to understand that life is about balance. Children are not meant to be workaholics nor are they meant to be stimulated by gadgets the majority of their waking hours. Childhood is about free play, exploration and learning, and any signs of fatigue that disturbs their quality of life should be taken seriously before they become irritable, exhausted adults.
— Meaghan, Coquitlam
Make bedtime something that kids look forward to, not dread. A bath, set storytime and routine (like saying good night to all their favourite things and people) and getting tucked in does a lot to relax a child who may not want to miss out on anything fun while they are sleeping.
— Maria, Vancouver
MICHELE KAMBOLIS SAYS
Sleep deprivation can affect memory, learning, emotion regulation, verbal ability, creativity, judgment, motivation, and level of engagement—all of which can quickly unravel a child’s performance in the classroom. Not only are well-rested kids more successful academically, they are better at meeting and coping with everyday challenges than their drowsy, cranky counterparts. Sleep deprivation can also weaken the immune system, leaving kids susceptible to more frequent illness—all factors that contribute significantly to compromised learning.
Eight hours may be the adult measuring stick, but children need much more time with the sandman. Children aged 3 to 6 ideally need 11 hours of sleep per night and children up to 12 are recommended to rest for ten. In each age group, parent surveys attest to an average of one to two hours nightly missing from children’s sleep schedules. Nine out of 10 teachers polled complain that tired students lack attention in their classrooms, and more than a third deal with the issue on a daily basis. There’s no substitute for shut-eye, no matter how much they claim to be “not tired.”
You’re right on track by addressing the sleep dilemma on an across-the-board basis by sharing facts about sleep guidelines, tips for better nighttime routine and managing nighttime behavioural backlash. Some parents won’t assume that the issue applies to their child, so a follow up call to those children in need of extra advocacy can go a long way. After all, any parent should be grateful you’ve taken the extra time to show such a strong commitment to their child’s well being.
Bring the kids into the conversation. Children can be very interested in brain science and receptive to learning about it, and are often amazed to both discover the impacts of sleep deprivation. Make it fun by having children guess the difference between various animals’ needs for sleep versus children. They’ll be fascinated to know that a giraffe needs only 30 minutes sleep per day versus their ten to twelve hours. Even children in primary school can grasp concepts surrounding the importance of a good night’s sleep and the factors that can affect it—becoming your greatest ally in creating a functional and rested group of students.
NEXT WEEK’S PARENT TRAP
My live-in boyfriend has a son by a previous marriage and they share custody, so I’m a part-time step-mom: a role that is pretty difficult to break down in terms of rights and responsibilities. Where I’m struggling in this specifically is with his table manners, he’s got every bad habit in the book: eating noisily and with his mouth open, licking and smacking at his fingers, wiping dirty hands on his pants. It’s so bad that I often take my food into the next room and avoid eating when I can hear him crunching away in the kitchen. I’ve mentioned this several times to my boyfriend but it’s not working the way he’s going at it, just making jokes about it at the table. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries or come across as the controlling new adult in his life, but his manners are really embarrassing. I think we all need to be on the same page here but as the only non-parent, I’m at a loss for how to go about addressing the situation. Where