The Magic of Sleep

Rewind: As the new school year is back and classes are now in session, getting back into the school routine seems to drag us all down. We’re finding it tough. It’s hard as a parent to drive rules over routine and having to become that ‘nagging’ mom or dad… it never feels nice and is always so stressful. Having the task of sorting out the kids from the moment we wake up all becomes a rush and battle of epic proportions! From washing, dressing, getting them to eat a healthy breakfast, preparing lunches, brushing teeth… even hunting down the missing shoe. But when we’re out the door there’s a huge sigh of relief and we’re quietly praying that nobody has forgotten anything that requires us to waste another minute of our time sorting out, before we get ourselves to work.

It’s a tough job raising and herding kids, especially if they have any special needs. I’m a mom, and my youngest son has ADHD. What once upon a time was just branded as ‘naughty’, thankfully is now medically diagnosed as a developmental disorder. His lack of focus, restraint and hyperactivity proves challenging doing the simplest of things. Things like remembering his sports kit, getting classwork written down, focusing on learning and remembering to do and hand in homework. He really does need to be micro-managed. But quite often, I’m not the best version of ‘mom’. I can be moping around without any energy, sporting heavy eyelids, I’m fatigued and fueled by caffeine; I can be irritable and forgetful myself… you see, I’m just worn out through lack of sleep. Now if I am, could my kids be too?

I became tired the moment I was pregnant, and really had stayed that way for 14 years. They say new parents get just 4 hours of sleep on average in the first year. As the kids grew, I tried to claw back a few more hours for myself and so rather than going to bed, I began taking some “me” time and staying awake, with a case of FOMO (fear of missing out). To really just wake up feeling drained and only to do it all again the next day, I was in what I felt was a never-ending cycle. It all needed to change!

So, 2 years ago, all blurry eyed, I started thinking of that one little word sleep and my lack of it. Often it gets overlooked. This one little word, used correctly, has become a big thing in our home. So much so it’s like a magic spell has been cast over us, it really has transformed us and our lives.

We woke up! Even with the pressure to pack in so many after-school activities, jobs to be done, homework and, of course, kids wanting to spend every waking minute on their devices, I am pleased to say that yesterday’s battles and having the ludicrous pattern of little sleep is far behind us. After realizing sleep is just as important to our lives as nutrition and exercise, we have prioritized sleep and are all reaping its rewards. So, the past few years I began to GTSE (go to sleep early) along with getting my kids to do the same. At first, this was a tough task, I admit. But it does get easier as the new routine kicks in, and you’ll see the improvements and change in everyone. Magic!

So… is sleep really a big deal? Why Yes! Here’s a few of the many magical benefits.

Sleep aids growth

Judith Owens, Director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C explains, “Growth hormone is primarily secreted during deep sleep.” Not only does it help kids grow but it also boosts muscle mass and repairs the body’s cells and tissues.

Sleep affects weight and overall health

Sleep helps makes our kids leaner. Lack of sleep can contribute to accelerating weight gain. When we’ve eaten, our fat cells create the hormone leptin, which makes us feel full – so we stop eating. When we’re sleep-deprived it affects our leptin levels, so kids that are not getting adequate sleep are missing the correct signals and are likely to overeat.

“Over time, kids who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be obese,” says Dorit Koren, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist and sleep researcher at the University of Chicago. She also goes on to say, “Research has shown that children, like adults, crave higher-fat or higher-carb foods when they’re tired,” and “Tired children also tend to be more sedentary, so they burn fewer calories.”

Sleep can also protect kids against circulating stress hormones, it also reduces glucose and cortisol levels – both preventing diabetes and heart disease.

Sleep keeps sickness at bay

When we’re asleep we produce proteins known as cytokines, which fight infection, illness and helps to relieve our stress. They also make us feel sleepy, which explains when we’re sick, we feel even more tired. It forces us to rest, to help our body’s ability to heal and recover. When we don’t get enough sleep (less than 7 hours) it impacts our cytokine levels, which makes us three times more likely to come down ill when we’ve been exposed to germs.

Sleep reduces impulsivity and injury

HALO (Healthy Active Living and Obesity) research group at the CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) research institute in Ottawa found that kids who have poor sleep are more likely to act impulsively and make poorer decisions. When kids meet the sleep guidelines, they are able to make better decisions and act less rashly, therefore less likely to injure themselves too.

Sleep improves mood and behaviour

Lack of sleep can increase mood swings; it can even make some kids depressed. It also affects how children learn and can increase behavioural problems. Sleep plays a vital role in their learning and development. When kids get a good night sleep and stick to a sleep routine, it makes them happier, helps them concentrate, remember things and improves their behavior.

Sleep increases attention span

Studies show that children who get less than ten hours of sleep a night before the age of three are 3x more likely to have hyperactivity and impulsivity difficulties by the time they are six! The symptoms of sleep deprivation and ADHD, including impulsivity and distractibility, mirror each other almost exactly. By increasing school age children’s sleep by just 27 minutes helps them manage their moods and impulses so they can pay attention and stay focused in class.

Here’s some tips to help your kids fall asleep, stay asleep and get good quality sleep.

  • Develop a good bedtime routine – follow the same steps each night to avoid confusion and conflict.
  • Establish a sleep schedule – stick to the same time, even on the weekend.
  • Help your kids wind down – keep lights dim, read to them or let them listen to a story podcast
  • Make sure the bedroom is ready for sleep – a dark or dim room with curtains/blinds drawn. A nightlight is soothing for smaller kids. I also spray a little lavender on the sheets.
  • Make sure bed time is device free. TechDen is a great tool for helping kids manage their screen time before bedtime. Set hours of use via an app and store and charge their devices safely in the Den. Once they are out of sight they are out of mind. Kids will be able to sleep distraction free! TechDen facts on sleep

One of my biggest saviours to family life and sleep time has been this new addition to the home – TechDen. TechDen has been a game changer! Not only in helping me not be that ‘nagging’ mom around their devices and the time spent on them, but it’s also stopped the melt downs the kids were having when coming off them. It has brought about consistency, routine and structure. Something that both of my children needed, but especially my boy dealing with ADHD.

They now enjoy putting devices away just so they can earn some rewards from me (tracked via the app) at the end of the week. All screens and devices are kept out of their bedrooms. We keep the Den in our kitchen and two hours before bed when their tech time is up, the kids get a notification (rather than me or their dad hassling them!) to put their tablets and phones away in the Den which securely locks, stores and charges them ready for the next day. Being out of sight and out of mind is such a big plus because they naturally tried to find any distraction before settling down to bed.

So, life in our home is much less sleepy these days and we all wake up feeling ready to go, whatever challenges that we may face…we’re ready!

Have you tracked just how much sleep you and your kids are getting? It may have taken me 14 years to do so, but if I can make changes, anyone can. Try it… it’s magic!

Emma is a working mom to two boys and one pup. She is also a contributing writer  to TechDen. Being ‘mom’ and her past career as an early-years educator, Emma is passionate about children’s welfare and education. Emma says she is trying to live her best life full of experiences and adventures, dragging the kids along for the ride! When she’s not spending family time with her husband, sons and dog, Emma finds time to enjoy her passions of painting, floristry, interior design and days out at the beach attempting to surf (God loves a tryer). Side note: Emma also insists she is trying to kick her caffeine habit in favour of juicing and exercise, which is a work in progress!