Sleep--It's for Your Brain

February 25, 2015

Do your children come to you at bedtime with all their aches and pains? My standard answer is, “Sleep makes everything better. If it still hurts in the morning, tell me.” My answer is not based on scientific studies, but my experience as a mom tells me, the hurt won’t be there in the morning and sleep (the child’s and mine) sure makes everything better. But now, I have found studies that may support my answer.

An article, summarizing the book Nurture Shock: A New Thinking about Children, recounts several studies that tell me that maybe going to bed with the sun may not be all bad.

In one study, Sadeh explains, “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to (the loss of) two years of cognitive maturation and development,” In other words, a fifth grader will perform in class like a third grader when one hour of sleep is lost.

What about grades? In one study, over 3000 high school students showed a correlation between grades and sleep. Teens receiving A’s averaged fifteen minutes more sleep than the B students, who averaged fifteen minutes more sleep than the C students, and so forth.

Over time, that loss of sleep has been linked to permanent problems. Does your teen have an attitude? Check his sleep patterns over time. Moodiness, depression, and binge eating can be indications of chronic sleep deprivation. This lack of sleep during formative years changes the child’s brain structure, contributing to these symptoms.

Dr. Paul Suratt at the University of Virginia studied the impact of sleep problems on vocabulary test scores in elementary schools. He found one hour of sleep lost can lead to a seven point IQ reduction in scores. That is the equivalent of what lead exposure can do.

I did not have any case studies then, but my experience with toddlers who didn't sleep enough, made me have a strict bedtime schedule. Only rare exceptions broke the routine of getting them to bed on time.

I didn’t keep this schedule for any monitoring of their brain development. I kept it because I would always pay on Monday after a long weekend of fun and late bed times. The fun times weren’t so fun the next day.

My husband reminds me that my lists and schedules can be detoured at times. I am quick to remind him that he isn’t home on Monday when pay day for play day comes. On the other hand, I must recognize his time with them should not always be rushed to get them to bed. So, I endure crabby children for good memories. But the common practice for bedtime is consistent and early.

What about naps? A study tested participants memorizing cards. One group napped during a 40-minute break, the other group stayed awake. Both groups tested the cards after the break. Those who napped performed better, with a 85% retention of the cards.

Andrei Medvedev, the study’s author, hypothesized that the right side of the brain (the one busy while we sleep) performs ‘house-keeping’ duties while we are asleep. In technical terms, napping enables the hippocampus (where memories are stored in the brain) to move the recent information to a more permanent storage, preventing them from being overwritten.

Another study required the groups to complete a challenging task around noon. At 2 PM half of the volunteers took a nap, the other half did not. Around 6 PM, with another test, the napping group performed better, not only compared with the non-napping group, but better than they had earlier in the morning.

Maybe I am not too uncaring when I told my boys, “Go to sleep. You’ll be better in the morning.”  They slept, I slept, and we were all better for it. And now I can also justify that nap that I require to help me function for the rest of the day, so I can remember what I am supposed to be doing. It’s for my brain’s sake and, of course, my children’s sake, too.

Displaying all 2 comments

I'm laughing over your last line, for my naps definitely were for the children's sake. Of course I didn't often nap when they were growing up, but sometimes they'd come to me and INSIST very strongly that I needed a nap! When that happened I knew I must really need one before I did or said something I shouldn't, so I'd take a nap.
This is a great article on sleep, I'm going to share it on Facebook and send it by email to my daughter-in-law, who doesn't have time for Facebook! Thanks for all the effort you put into these articles, don't know how you find time. Is it at midnight?

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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