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Do your kids share a bedroom? Child Sleep Expert Rebecca Michi answers the question “Should siblings share a bedroom?”

Did you know your brain is as active when you’re asleep as when you’re awake?

The whole point of sleep, scientists now believe, is not to rest your head but to pause everything else your body is doing so your brain can get to work. It’s like a store-closing at 10 pm. It’s not that the entire Target goes dark but just that need to interact with customers and makes sales is stopped. In the wee hours of the night is when floors are mopped, shelves are dusted, and stock in replenished and rearranged.

So it is with your brain – and with your child’s brain. During sleep, memories are solidified and the learning that happened during the day is incorporated. All those synaptic connections that make a person smarter and more capable link up during sleep.

And not just during sleep at night. Sleep during the day has the same brain-enhancing effect. Children are smarter after a nap.

Researchers Rebecca Gomez and Susanne Diekelmann recently concluded several studies that demonstrate this fact. In one study, year-old babies who were playing heard a voice over a loudspeaker talking in a made-up language. After this training period, some of the babies napped and some stayed awake. The babies who napped were able, after they awoke, to recognize grammatic elements of the new language and even apply them to new sentences (this was tested by babies’ reaction to “correct” and “incorrect” uses of the language heard through headphones). But the babies who’d stayed awake could not.

In a similar language study with preschoolers the same effect was found. Recalling new words was easier for kids who had taken a nap after hearing new words in conversation than it was for kids who had not napped. While preschoolers, with more mature brains than babies’, were not able to generalize pre-nap learning to new situations as the infants could, they were more able after a nap to remember generalizations learned before a nap. For example, they were more able to recognize that the letter A in different fonts is the same letter every time.

The take-away message is obvious: make sure your small children take their naps.

  1. Naptime should be sacred. Try very hard to keep to a consistent nap schedule, which makes it easier for children to fall asleep easily. Keep noise and other interruptions to a minimum during naptime.
  2. Don’t let your child give up naps too soon. It’s common for even toddlers to appear to have “outgrown” their naps but this isn’t true. Other research of Gomez and Diekelmann has shown that even children who nap only infrequently still learn best on their “nap days.”
  3. Notice that “quiet time” doesn’t replace a nap, from the brain’s perspective. To connect up new learning, the brain needs a complete shutdown of activity. Quiet time may be refreshing and make a good break in the day, but it’s not the same.
  4. As children do outgrow their naps, be certain they get plenty of sleep at night. Small children need 12 to 14 hours of sleep every night. Get them to bed in plenty of time to sleep all they need before it’s time to wake up.

By the way, the value of sleep continues for adults. The phrase, “Let me sleep on it,” has roots in fact: learning and memory formation happen during sleep so that we’re all smarter when we wake up.

To be smarter, take a nap. Nap when your children do!



© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

When is bedtime at your house for your preschool children? If your answer something like “It depends” then you could be setting your family up for problems. A new study from University College London, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that children whose bedtimes are variable are more likely to be behavior problems for Mom and Dad.

Bedtimes reported by parents of 10,000 English 3-, 5- and 7-year-old children were compared to parents’ and teachers’ reports of children’s behavior. A clear link was found between irregular bedtimes and hyperactivity, conduct disorders, problems getting along with friends, and emotional outbursts. The longer irregular bedtimes persisted and the older children got, the more severe the behavior problems became.

Researchers speculate that variable bedtimes throw off the body’s circadian rhythm, leading to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation disrupts essential brain functions that occur during sleep and interferes with neural development of brain areas needed for behavior regulation.

They found that irregular bedtimes are most common among three-year-olds, when 1 in 5 children go to sleep at different times each night – and when behavior struggles and tantrums are common! By age seven, most children go to bed between 7:30 and 8:30 pm but children still up at 9:00 pm or who continue to go to bed at odd times continue to struggle with behavior.

Every parent knows that children who are overtired or who didn’t get a good night’s sleep are more likely to be irritable and unfocused. Imagine that this is a child’s daily experience. As lead researcher Yvonne Kelly notes, “Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag.”

It’s obvious that irregular bedtimes might have daytime consequences.

What can you do?

  1. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Don’t let small children stay up to watch television, so finish a game, or participate in evening activities. Get things wrapped up in time for the same bedtime every night.
  2. Maintain your child’s bedtime even on weekends and vacations. Goodness knows, you want your child to be sweet when she’s around you all day. And just as jetlag lingers for a day or two, a late-night on the weekend may have repercussions for your child’s learning later in the week.
  3. Make certain the sleeping arrangements provided to your child work for him. If older or younger children disrupt your child’s sleep, take steps to adjust the sleeping situation.
  4. Avoid letting your child watch television or play with computers or cellphones in bed. The light from these screens disrupts the release of the sleep hormone melatonin and can lead to sleep deprivation.
  5. If you allow your child to read in bed, have a firm “lights out” limit. Yes, we want our children to enjoy reading. But they need their sleep too.

The good news, according to the study, is that behavior problems caused by irregular bedtimes are reversible. Once children start going to bed at a the same time each night, they became better behaved during the day.

Having trouble with your child’s behavior? Look at her bedtime. If it’s variable, just setting a more regular sleep schedule may make a difference.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

You probably already know what sleep is for. You know that your brain is actually just as active during sleep as it is when you’re awake, organizing what was learned during the day and laying down memories. The purpose of sleep is to minimize the need for activity so the important brain work can be accomplished. It’s sort of like what happens after-hours at your local grocery store. The shelves get rearranged, stock is replenished, improvements are made – things that couldn’t happen as well when the place is full of customers.

So it’s important that your children – and you! – get enough sleep at night. But now a new study indicates that for children, at least, daytime naps serve the same function. Preschoolers who nap know more than preschoolers who don’t.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst taught children to play a game like “Memory” in which they needed to remember the location of different pictures. They played the game in the morning, Then, during their regular naptime, some children were encouraged to sleep while others were kept awake. Nappers typically slept for 77 minutes. In the afternoon, they played the game again and again the next day. Children who napped remembered significantly more of the Memory game picture placements than children who didn’t, both immediately and on the following day.

According to lead researcher, Rebecca Spencer, “Our study shows that naps help the kids better remember what they are learning in preschool…When they miss a nap, the child cannot recover this benefit of sleep with their overnight sleep. It seems that there is an additional benefit of having the sleep occur in close proximity to the learning.”

A follow-up study using brain scans confirmed that during naps, “sleep spindles” increase. These indicators of brain activity are associated with formation of new learning.

What does this mean for us?

  1. Make certain your preschool child gets sufficient sleep at night and also during naps. Don’t hurry to eliminate naps.
  2. Don’t push your child’s preschool to replace naptime with more academic time. Insist that your child who takes naps at home be allowed to nap at school.
  3. Counter administrative efforts to eliminate naps, increase homework, and shorten recess. Downtime is needed for learning to happen.

Spencer says, “Children should not only be given the opportunity, they should be encouraged to sleep by creating an environment which supports sleep.” Do that for your child.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

When your child isn’t getting a good night’s sleep, it usually means you aren’t either.  Whether your child is having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, one of the first steps is to make sure that you are practicing good sleep hygiene.  It’s a funny name, but “Sleep Hygiene” simply refers to the environmental and timing factors that help us fall and stay asleep.  Here is a short list of “Good Sleep Hygiene Practices” for your child or for you.

Everyone’s body is different, so some of these items will be more important for you or your child than others—consider experimenting to find the ones that make the biggest impact.  Also consider sharing this information with your child and letting her choose which ones to experiment with first.  Children love having a sense of ownership over changes to their schedule and routines.  Good luck, sweet dreams, and sleep well.