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Sleep Tight, Sleep Right

Are your children revising late into the night for their exams? Here’s how you can help them make the most of their limited shut-eye.

Exams – especially crucial ones like the PSLE and O levels – are downright stressful. A major exam is also a period where your child inevitably gets less sleep as he studies late into the night. “Sleep is important for learning and consolidation of memory. It is also vital for optimal daytime function, including cognitive function, higher executive function, mood, vigilance and achievement motivation – all important attributes for acing the examinations,” says Dr Jenny Tang, senior visiting consultant from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and paediatrician from SBCC Baby & Child Clinic. If a schedule overhaul is not possible, there are other ways to help your school-going kids have better quality sleep.



Numerous studies have shown a link between eating well and sleeping well, so managing your children’s diets will   help them sleep better. According to the National Sleep Foundation in the US, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan – a building block of the sleep related chemical serotonin – could potentially make you drowsy. Sources include eggs, chicken, fish and nuts. “Foods high in complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrain breads and cereals, also tend to increase serotonin levels and promote sleep. Warm milk, chamomile or peppermint tea before bedtime are good options too,” adds Dr Tang. At the other end of the spectrum, avoid foods that tax or upset the stomach close to bedtime – fatty, fried or spicy foods, foods with simple carbohydrates like sweets and cakes, and caffeinated beverages like tea, hot chocolate, soda and coffee.



“If your kids are sleep-deprived, power naps of 5-15 minutes can help improve alertness and performance for about 2 hours immediately after the nap,” says Dr Tang. However, discourage them from taking long naps or evening naps – they disrupt sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep at night.



Dr Tang recommends a bedroom temperature of 20-24 deg C. “Studies have shown that anything greater than 24 deg C may disrupt sleep. High humidity can also accentuate the effect of heat,” she adds. The National Sleep Foundation has this useful tip if you don’t want to rely on your air-conditioner: Place a fan at the window, facing outwards, to blow warm air out of the room. Close all the other windows and doors through which air can enter, except the one nearest the bed – this way, a stream of cooler air will be pulled in through one window while warm air is blown out through another.



Kids and teenagers may be significantly less active in the run-up to the exams, but encourage them to maintain their activity level. “Exercising in the late afternoon, at least three hours before bedtime, helps to promote sleep,” says Dr Tang. Some teenagers may want to de-stress by playing video games or watching TV – that’s fine as long as these stimulating activities are not done within the hour before bedtime.



Urban noise pollution, such as from an expressway or exposed MRT tracks, can be difficult to shut out, but heavy, noise-muffling curtains may help. Inside your home too, reducing noise after your children’s bedtime can be hard.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Keep bustle to a minimum, and lower the volume of the TV (use earphones if possible, and give your kids earplugs to block out the noise). You can make use of white noise, like that from a sound conditioner, fan or air purifier, to mask activity inside and outside the house. “White noise may be useful for light sleepers, but don’t use it excessively, especially for babies and very young children, to avoid limiting the range of sounds they get to hear,” advises Dr Tang.



As it does in adults, darkness promotes the production of the sleep hormone melatonin in kids. So keep the bedroom as dark as possible – draw the curtains or shades to cut out light from street lamps, or the moonlight. In their room, make your kids switch off gadgets that give off light, like bright alarm clocks, mobile phones, computers, TVs and tablets, as part of their nighttime routine. Get them to do this at least an hour before bedtime to allow their bodies to “come down” from the stimulating effects of these gadgets. Instead of switching on the stronger overhead lights in their pre-bedtime hours, the National Sleep Foundation advises using low-wattage, incandescent bedside lamps to help them wind down. They should use these night lights too, if they need to go to the bathroom during the night. “Choose a night light that is dim enough so it won’t disturb your children’s sleep, but bright enough so they can make their way around the room. An energy-saving one in calming blue, yellow or green works well,” adds Dr Tang.



The best sleep-friendly colours for your kids’ bedroom are those that create calming, soothing feelings, such as light blue and green. Avoid red and purple: Red is associated with failure and may impair performance, while purple, says Dr Tang, is “mentally stimulating, resulting in poorer rest and a shorter night’s sleep on average”.



If you’ve pulled out all the stops, yet your child is still excessively tired or restless during the day, or needs excessive sleep (more than 10 hours), there could be an underlying problem, like obstructive sleep apnoea, which can lead to a short temper and declining performance in school. In this case, consult a doctor for a diagnosis.


By Kayce Teo, Simply Her, October 2014

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