Sweet Dreams, Stronger Minds: The Importance of Early Bedtimes
Most nights in Nablus, it’s easy to look outside and see that many children aren’t where they are supposed to be- while they might be up to regular activities like playing a game of soccer in the street or shouting with friends on the sidewalk, they can experience irregularities in their health and brain development since they’re not in bed. Around Palestine- and other parts of the world- kids lack the consistency of early, constant bedtimes. In Nablus, it’s easy to identify this- just one step outside on any given night, and you’ll find children running around instead of getting ready for bed. But the benefits of early bedtimes benefits kids much more than just the next morning- a recent report published by the University College London found that 3-year-olds with regular bedtimes perform better on cognitive tests at age 7 than children whose bedtimes weren’t consistent. This study evidences that children who receive inadequate sleep when they are young can face challenges in their academic performance and overall health.
As you can read in the article, researchers suggest that inconsistent bedtimes can interrupt a child’s cognitive development by disrupting circadian sleep rhythms, which can impact brain plasticity. This causes changes in the synapses and neural pathways at critical ages of brain development- and can lead to lifelong impacts. At TYO, it is common to identify children in our Core Child Program experiencing the affect of sleep deprivation- whether it’s staying up late to watch a television show or fear of sleeping because of nightmares, kids without consistent bedtimes exhibit a lack of concentration, attention deficits, and drowsiness. We've also seen during Ramadan this summer the major changes in children's sleep patterns- many aren't going to bed until 2 or 3 AM, and waking up late in the day. This can also lead to aggressiveness or impulsiveness, because kids aren't getting enough sleep. In The Women's Group at TYO, we've also talked to moms who've had trouble convincing children to go to bed- kids can have anxiety about sleeping if they've experienced violence, or fear that they might be "missing out" on being with their parents or fun.
According to the researchers, school-aged children should be getting about 10 hours of sleep, while 3 and 4 year olds would benefit from 11 to 13 hours. For parents, it might be helpful to help their kids reach this number by reading a fun book with a child before they sleep to help calm their minds, or having a special time of talking with each child before bedtime to foster a sense of safety. Parents should also be aware of the dangers of having their kids out late at night- and community leaders should also take action to create safer spaces. And for kids, it’s helpful to know that while there might getting to sleep might not sound fun now- but would have lasting benefits in their future.