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Tips & Info

Let’s Talk about Sleep

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Sleep…seems like a boring subject, huh? But actually it’s really interesting! Most animals and birds have to sleep – some at night and some during the day! For example:

  • Dugongs – sleep underwater and just come up every now and then for a breath
  • Bats – sleep upside down in a cave
  • Birds – sleep in trees – some even sleep while they are flying!
  • Horses – sleep standing up
  • Sea otters – can float in the water on their backs while they have a snooze
  • Chimpanzees – make themselves cosy while nesting in a tree when they are ready for bed
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Why do we need sleep?

Just like a car that needs petrol to keep on driving, our bodies need sleep to gather up the energy we need for the next busy day. Where do you like to sleep? Do you have a bed time routine, or do you fall asleep on the couch watching TV? Do you sleep in a room by yourself or do you share it with others?

Your body and your brain need sleep to help them grow, heal and develop. That’s why babies (who are growing and developing really fast) spend so much time sleeping.

Your brain needs sleep to…

  • Help you remember what you have learned
  • Help you concentrate the next day
  • Think of new ideas and help you sort out things that have worried you during the day

Have you ever been worried about a problem and then gone to sleep and woken up the next morning feeling better about it, with some new ideas about what you could do?

Your body needs sleep to…

  • grow
  • fix injuries
  • stay healthy and fight off sickness

Lack of sleep can cause you to be grumpy, emotional, hyperactive and/or have trouble paying attention in school.

How long do we need to sleep?

For some kids life can get pretty busy, with school, sport, after school activities, visits to friends and homework. It can sometimes be hard to get enough sleep!

Experts say that school age kids need between 10 and 12 hours sleep a night. Does that sound about the amount of sleep you are having? If you are having less sleep than that, what do you think stops you from getting enough sleep?

What happens when we sleep?

During the day, while you are running around with your friends, doing things with your family, playing, eating or learning stuff at school, your body is pretty busy.

At night when you sleep, your body and brain are busy too, getting sorted for the next day, growing and healing. It’s important that you give yourself plenty of time to sleep so that they can get on with the job!

Sleep and the sun

Sunlight helps you know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. As the sun goes down and it gets dark, your brain makes a chemical called melatonin which makes you feel sleepy. When the sun comes up in the morning your brain turns the melatonin off so that you wake up, ready for your day.

That’s why it’s important to have a dark room to sleep in (a night light is ok if you really need it), because you don’t want your brain to get confused and not know whether it should be helping you get sleepy or not.

The sleep cycle

While you are asleep you move between being lightly asleep (which is when you dream), deeply asleep, and waking briefly. This cycle of sleep happens all through the night.

When some kids wake, they are able to snuggle down and go straight back to sleep (they probably won’t even remember that they woke up in the morning) but others might need some help to settle down again. They might even run into their parents’ bed and need to sleep with them.

How is it for you? Do you wake in the night and need help to get back to sleep or do you sleep right through?

But sometimes I can’t sleep!

Some people have trouble sleeping at night and this can cause problems for them during the day – they might be irritable, have trouble concentrating, feel sad, get into fights with family and friends or even fall asleep at really inappropriate times (like in class or on the bus).

If this happens every so often, it’s usually not too much of a problem. But if it happens to you a lot and you are noticing that it is causing problems during the day, it would be a good idea to make sure that whoever looks after you knows what is happening, so they can help you sort it out.

What makes going to sleep harder?

Lots of things make going to sleep harder, like:

  • Too much light
  • Too much noise
  • Being too hot or too cold
  • Doing really exciting things just before bed time – it’s hard to settle down to sleep if you have been doing things like running around the house or playing ‘Murder in the Dark’
  • Drinking fizzy caffeine drinks in the afternoon or evening. They can give you too much energy and then it can be hard to settle down
  • Eating a big meal just before it’s time for bed – your body will be so busy digesting food that it will be hard for it to settle down to sleep

What makes going to sleep easier?

  • A regular bedtime – if you go to bed at the same time every night, your body knows what is going on, and will usually settle easily
  • Winding down about 30 minutes before your bedtime – try to find quiet things to do like reading or listening to relaxing music
  • A consistent routine – doing the same things every night, for example going to the toilet, cleaning your teeth and settling down with a book, will help give your body the message that it’s time to fall asleep
  • A comfortable (not too hot or too cold) and quiet place to sleep
  • Exercise and running around during the day (just not close to bed time)

Dreams and Nightmares…

Everybody dreams every night, but we don’t always remember our dreams. They are usually about things that you are worried or excited about, and even sometimes about things that you are really hoping for. Dreaming is our minds way of sorting through things that have happened to us during the day to try and help us make some sense of them.

Dreams can be fun and exciting – like when you dream you are flying, riding a horse really fast or seeing someone that you miss – but they can also be scary. Scary dreams or nightmares don’t usually happen very often but when they do they can leave you feeling upset and worried, even though you know that what happened was just a dream. What do you do if you have a nightmare? How do you help yourself feel better?

And finally…

Do you remember your dreams? If you do, do you share them with your family? It can be fun when you get up in the morning to tell each other the funny or interesting things that you dreamed about during the night!

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This topic was reviewed in July 2015.

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