Until the ages of four, a child’s brain undergoes rapid growth and change. As parents, it is crucial to ensure that they have everything they need for this time of development.
When we spoke with Singaporean parents, most attributed the types of food their child ate, or how often they read to them as significant factors that helped brain stimulation and development.
While there may be truth in those examples, an often-overlooked but essential component of child brain development is plain old advice of just having a good mattress and getting enough sleep.
But why is sleep important for the brain?
Based on studies over the decades, sleep plays an essential role in cognition and physical growth. After going through vast amounts of literature, here are some examples that show the benefits of sleep, all scientifically proven.
- Sleep can improve your infant’s memory capabilities.
- The amount of sleep at an early age is directly related to an infant’s language development.
- Ensures children have what they need to be on their best behavior, control their emotions, and improve their reasoning and problem-solving skills.
In the natural order of things, children will typically spend 40 percent of their childhood asleep as cognitive and physical development takes a tremendous amount of energy. But there is some bad news; children in Asian countries are just not getting enough sleep.
Based on the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for sleep durations, children in Singapore fall on the lower thresholds of those recommendations that encourage healthy growth.
So instead of hindering their development, which could impact the ability to learn, here are some tips based on scientific studies that will help your child unlock their inner genius during their formative years.
Look out for signs of sleep disorders.
According to a study by the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, doctors suggest that parents look out for signs of snoring, labored breathing, and obstructive sleep apnea symptoms when their children are asleep. Should your child have any of these sleeping difficulties, it’s essential to plan a visit to your family physician. When these symptoms are alleviated, they can get high-quality sleep.
With a night of good sleep, children tend to perform better in school and have better behavioral functions.
Here’s what the study co-author Bruno Giordani, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, Neurology, and Psychology at the University of Michigan, said, “Regardless of intellectual level, we can expect to see some behavioral improvement along with better sleep… Once behavior improves, attention in school improves, and emotional ability and behavioral and impulsivity control improve.”
Let them take naps.
“Sleep deficiency and daytime drowsiness are surprisingly widespread, with sleepiness affecting up to 20% of all children”, says Jianghong Liu, Ph.D., Professor of Nursing and Public Health at the University of Pennsylvania, and lead author of a study that followed 3,000 school children from toddlerhood through adolescence.
The study concluded that when children napped between 30 to 60 minutes midday for at least three times a week, the children were observed to be happier, had more self-control, grit, and fewer behavioral problems. These children also had higher IQs and excelled academically compared to children who didn’t.
Start a bedtime routine.
Standard literature highlights the benefits of sleep for children, but one aspect parents can take full advantage beyond sleeping is introducing a bedtime routine.
A study published in 2017, described having a bedtime routine as “a feasible and cost-effective method to promote positive early childhood development worldwide;” this highlights the golden opportunity parents have to spend time regularly and build a stronger relationship with their children.
The study gave suggestions for each bedtime routine that we’ll discuss in slight detail.
Breastfeeding your little one who is still in infancy has shown to facilitate increased parent-child bonding and attachment, increased intelligence, and according to the World Health Organization, the best physical and psychological development for your child.
When your children keep up good hygiene habits, such as brushing their teeth or taking a shower before bedtime, it decreases your child’s chances of catching an illness. This routine also helps facilitate early learning of proper self-care, which helps them lead to a higher quality of life into adulthood.
Reading aloud and singing lullabies can help your children learn new languages, improve their literacy, reduce stress, and help cognitive development. However, please note that your child listening to classical music while sleeping will not increase their intelligence. The so-called “Mozart effect” is a myth and has no scientific backing, but when your child learns to play an instrument, there is evidence that it sets them up for a “brighter” academic future.
Dishing out massages and cuddles to your kids helps promote health, mood, and emotional–behavioral regulation while also encouraging parent-child attachment, it also helps them fall asleep more easily.
Overall when your child has an excellent routine to follow, a 2014 poll done by the National Sleep Foundation showed that they get better quality sleep.
Manage their stress
However, if you are one of the parents that still have a hard time getting their young ones to fall asleep even after trying everything, there could be an external stress factor affecting your child. Some signs of stress are when your child has trouble falling or staying asleep, regularly complaining of nightmares, continually asking if they could sleep in the same bed as you, or bedwetting.
So how do you get your child to sleep better? Fortunately, anxiety and related sleep problems quickly resolve when family time increases, but if the issues persist, it is worth speaking with a pediatrician or therapist.
I’m glad to share with you the immense value there is in getting good sleep. The lack of sleep brings about side effects on the brain that are detrimental to learning, impaired memory retention, increased levels of hunger that lead to obesity, and weakened immune systems. Nobody has time for that!
Now that you know how to help your child excel, let me know what else you do for your child to help them at school and in life in the comments below!