Do you remember the last time you dragged yourself into work after a night of tossing and turning?
Maybe you hit snooze on your alarm a few times, then you begrudgingly rolled out of bed and chugged your first cup of coffee that day, knowing full well that cup would not be your last. Maybe you even contemplated calling in sick. And once you got to work, maybe you snapped at a coworker, struggled to remember where you left something, or even started to nod off at an inconvenient moment on those long, horrible days.
Now imagine that you’re 7 years old, and you’re having one of those kinds of days.
You didn’t sleep enough the night before — maybe you share a room with a noisy sibling, you have sleep apnea, or you have a parent who comes home from work late — but you still have to survive the school day. And one night of poor sleep is bad enough, but what if this becomes the norm?
If you’ve ever spent time around a young child that needs a nap, you know it doesn’t take much to make them cranky. And if kids are constantly in need of more sleep, it can start to add up, taking a toll on their moods, development, school work and friendships.
That’s because kids actually need more sleep than adults to function well.
It’s just as important as diet and exercise to their health. A lack of sleepcan mess with a kid’s hormones — specifically, the hormone responsible for their growth, which is secreted primarily while they’re asleep. It also affects their concentration, memory, and problem-solving — which takes a toll on their academic performance. Plus, sleep deprivation comes with a whole host of behavioral and emotional issues — including emotional control, hyperactivity, and impulsivity — in kids as young as 7.
And the effects can be longterm too. Sleep deprivation early in life has also been linked to health problems in adulthood, including diabetes and heart disease. To make matters worse, research also suggests there is a correlation with socioeconomic status and sleep deprivation, making kids who are already disadvantaged especially vulnerable to its effects.
Experts estimate that somewhere between 20% to 30% of kids have encountered sleep problems. But the good news is that a better bedtime routine can go a long way to help.
That routine doesn’t have to be complicated, either: taking a warm bath, slipping into a favorite pair of dinosaur pajamas, brushing teeth, and then drifting off after a story can make all the difference, research shows, as long as that routine is consistent.
Over time, according to a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a regular bedtime routine will help kids fall asleep more quickly, sleep longer, and wake up less often in the middle of the night. It also led to fewer behavioral problems during the day.
The only problem is that not every kid has the luxury of a soothing, comfortable routine.
In households that struggle to afford basic necessities, the simple comforts that make bedtime soothing — a nutritious snack, cozy PJs, a storybook — are not always readily available. And without them, many of the benefits of a bedtime routine can be lost or diminished. It’s easy to forget that something as simple as pajamas can be a privilege, and an important one at that.
Recently, many inventive solutions have emerged to help kids in need with their sleep hygiene, including programs like Project Rise: ThreadForward, launched by Westin Hotels & Resorts.
As part of this program, Westin is collecting, processing and reweaving discarded high-quality bed linens from its hotels and transforming them into pajamas that they are donating to kids all around the world who otherwise can’t afford them.
Pajamas may be a simple comfort, but they can be a critical part of sleep hygiene, especially for the kids who need it most.
Good habits create a solid foundation for life, and even the small things — like a warm glass of milk or comfy PJs — have a part to play. They might seem simple, but they’re an important part of forming the routines that kids carry with them well into the future.
Every child deserves sufficient rest. And with all the demands we place on kids today, it’s more critical than ever to get them on the path to a good night’s sleep.
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