Sleep — one of the neglected necessities
Have you ever been to Walmart during the week after 8 p.m.? Have you ever questioned why there are so many young children in the store and not at home getting ready for bed? I have.
This is a topic that makes me wonder why parents are allowing their children to not obtain the amount of sleep they need in order to be ready to learn and behave in school the next day. I have read many articles related to this topic and obtained years of student opinions and have come to learn that there are many reasons why parents allow this to occur, including: lack of knowledge, lack of time available to spend with their children, too many activities and a desire to avoid the unwelcome tantrum.
Literature consistently states that children ages 1-3 need approximately 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, and children ages 5-12 require 10-11 hours of rest a night. When I consider this information, I cannot imagine how a typical family today could help their child even come close to this goal. Our lives are jam-packed with responsibilities, school activities and the like. However, knowing the potential ramifications of not helping our children reach these goals is alarming. Studies have shown that lack of sleep may lead to obesity, attention problems and impulsivity.
When I consider the number of children who have attention issues in our schools, I again wonder if their sleep habits have been taken into consideration. Sleep disorders are often misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This makes sense when I think about how I behave when I have not had enough sleep and try to function properly at work; one could say that I lack focus, seem disorganized and lack follow through.
What can we do? There are many suggestions; some of them are to have a consistent sleep schedule and be sure to make the bedroom a place conducive for sleep. Consistency is the key in all parenting tips, and when referring to sleep, it is just as important. When children know it's their bedtime and know their parents never give in to their tantrums, children will give up the tantrums. However, if parents give in just once, the tantrums will be even harder to extinguish. Along with this idea of consistency is to have a nice relaxing routine before bedtime. Having a child take a bath or reading to them can help prepare the child for sleep.
A conducive environment means a dark, cool space that is free of technology. I know that in and of itself will cause a ruckus, but the brain will continue to process new information coming in through our ears rather than perform the restorative functions that sleep provides, thus not obtaining the full benefit of sleep.
Now how does one begin a routine that will allow both parent and child obtain the necessary sleep? Teaching children a new routine brings to mind the psychological theory of operant conditioning, first developed by B.F. Skinner. The theory basically states that in order to bring about a change in behavior, there must be some type of consequence; this can be something that is pleasing to the person or removing something deemed negative to the person.
A cute idea found at MedicineNet suggested using the “morning fairy.” The “morning fairy” is the sister of the tooth fairy who leaves small prizes (positive reinforcement) outside the hall of the child's bedroom when they follow the sleep routine established.
Using the principle of operant conditioning, the prizes can be set up on a variable schedule, meaning not every night do they get a prize, but often during the initial phase of the plan and then when the sleep routine/pattern has been established, the prizes can come at longer intervals. In time, the child's own natural rhythm will be established and the prizes will no longer be necessary.
Patricia Powers is interim associate dean in the Business and Liberal Arts Division at Arizona Western College. She can be reached at Patricia.Powers@azwestern.edu.