Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

I have long been a firm believer in the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Waking up feeling refreshed after a deep 7-8 hours sleep makes me feel ready to tackle anything. On the other hand, if I don’t get these crucial hours, I don’t do so well. But, because I am adult, I have developed ways to overcome some of these behaviours on the sleep-deprived days and my brain quickly tells me why I’m feeling the way I do. I can work out why I feel extra annoyed when someone cuts me off as I drive to work.

Children, however, haven’t developed the same capacity to understand their emotions and behaviour. When they get tired, they feel irritable, impatient and they can’t handle small problems. They often act in ways that can be very frustrating and challenging for parents.

So, how do we help our children get the Z-time they need for optimal performance? There are a few ways:-

  • create a comfortable, warm environment for them to sleep
  • encourage a routine before bed (that might include a bath, teeth brushing, a story and a cuddle), and
  • make sure you have a regular time for bed.

For older children and adolescents, lack of sleep can become chronic and severely interfere with attention, mood and general health. This is partly because they are generally busy and school work can often add to their time commitments. But often it is due to the use of technology, particularly for socialising and game-playing. I know that some teenagers are waking at night to check their messages and this interruption of sleep can lead to a lifetime of poor sleep habits. Playing games or chatting online late into the night also disrupts sleep because the light emitted by electronic devices interferes with the production of melatonin, an important hormone that helps us sleep.

So, to promote good sleep habits in your children, set up routines around bedtimes, have a regular time for bed and make sure computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices are switched off (and preferably out of the bedroom) at least an hour before bedtime.

Some useful sites listing the effects of lack of sleep are:
http://sleepeducation.net.au/
http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/07/07/39779.aspx

You can also find out how many hours is ideal for each age here:
http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/

And if you picked up a copy of the Courier Mail July 20-21 the magazine is titled “SLEEPING SICKNESS”

– Michael Hawton MAPs

Child & Family Psychologist

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