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Sleep Issues for Visual-Spatial Kids
When I was pregnant with our first child, someone gave me a card that I never forgot. He said, “Having a baby is nature’s way of telling you you’ve been sleeping too much!” In the thirteen years since then, there have been many nights when I have dreamed of an evening of children getting ready for bed without incident, falling asleep peacefully, remaining blissfully asleep through an uninterrupted night and waking up – as a family – fully rested and ready for the day. Since studying the characteristics of visual-spatial learners, those who think in pictures and not in words, I have wondered if sleep problems were more common in these children than in their auditory sequential counterparts. Do your visual-spatial children have trouble falling asleep at night? Are they far “too wired” to sleep at bedtime? Perhaps now that the left hemisphere of their brain is free to take a break from the school day, the right hemisphere is wide awake and ready to create inventions or embark on imaginative adventures.
If your kids have trouble falling asleep at night, I have some tips that might help. First, your children need to understand how important sleep is to their body and brain. They may think they get along just fine without getting much sleep at night. But, if they really got the amount of sleep their body needed every night, they would do better in school, sports, music – even their relationships with friends and family would improve. Everyone’s need for sleep is different, so there aren’t really any guidelines after infancy as to how much sleep a person needs. However, if your children doze off in class or are unable to concentrate clearly, they should start going to bed earlier.
Sleep researchers believe that sleep, especially deep sleep,
…allows the brain to review and consolidate all the streams of information it has gathered while awake. Another (study) suggests that we sleep in order to allow the brain to refuel and eliminate waste. A third, which is gaining traction, is that sleep works in mysterious ways to help you master various skills, like playing the piano and riding a bike. (Time, December 20, 2004, Why We Sleep by Christine Gorman, pp. 48-49)
Researchers have learned that most mammals, including humans, switch between two different sleep phases: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM. It is during REM sleep that people experience increased brain activity and vivid dreams. REM sleep is essential for humans, but you have to go through the stages of non-REM sleep to get there. In fact, “your ability to recognize certain patterns on a computer screen is directly related to the amount of REM sleep you get.” (Time, December 20, 2004, Why We Sleep by Christine Gorman, pp. 48-49) Also, learning something new just before your kids fall asleep will help them remember that information better. So any important study for an exam should probably be done just before bedtime.
Have you ever fallen asleep with a problem in mind, only to wake up in the morning and have the answer? This is because your brain is still functioning, reviewing the events of the day, even though you are no longer conscious. You could encourage your children to “fall asleep” on an issue before making important decisions. They may be surprised to have discovered a solution overnight!
Once your kids understand the importance of sleep, how do you get them to sleep in the first place, right? Here are some tips to help your children relax and get enough rest for a good night’s sleep:
1. Set their biological clock by keeping the same sleep schedule, seven days a week. Don’t let them try to catch up by sleeping late on weekends.
2. Create an environment that helps your children sleep, not an environment that prevents them from sleeping. A cool, dark, open room should help. Visors or earplugs can also help.
3. No caffeine in the afternoon or evening. That means no soda or chocolate. They should avoid spicy foods and finish eating at least three hours before bedtime.
4. No computers, television or arguments half an hour before bedtime. Research indicates that the body’s production of melatonin (which aids sleep) is reduced by playing on the computer or watching television.
5. Offer a snack before bedtime. Certain foods naturally trigger a release of serotonin, which helps induce sleep: a glass of milk, a piece of toast with a slice of cheese, half a peanut butter sandwich, or oatmeal with bananas can do the trick.
6. Calming music is often helpful, as are warm baths.
So, let’s say you finally put the kids to sleep. Now, how do you help them stay asleep? Snoring is not a problem exclusive to adults. Up to 12% of all children suffer from snoring problems which can have a dramatic impact on their ability to get a good night’s sleep. And, when a child snores, new studies suggest they’re more likely to perform poorly in school than a child who doesn’t snore. “What research is now showing is that snoring can cause behavioral problems, attention problems and difficulty concentrating,” says Dr. Norman Friedman, sleep disorders expert at Children’s Hospital from Denver.
My two children were subject to nightmares. Do your visuospatial children suffer from nightmares that seem so real that they have trouble shaking them from their memory when they wake up? Such nightmares usually occur during the deepest part of sleep, REM sleep and the kind of sleep your child needs most. You could try using a dreamcatcher and hanging it above their bed. Dreamcatchers have been used for generations. Native American legend says that dream catchers sift through the sleeping person’s dreams, catching the good ones and sending the bad dreams through the hole in the center. If it helps your kids fall asleep soundly enough that nightmares aren’t bothersome to them, they’ll have done the trick!
Of course, there are other sleep issues, including sleepwalking, sleepwalking, bedwetting, and night terrors, to name a few. According to the website, Information About Children’s Sleep for Parents and Teachers (www.sleepforkids.org), you should talk to your child’s doctor if any of the following are observed:
A newborn or infant who is extremely and constantly fussing
A child who has difficulty breathing or whose breathing is noisy
A child who snores, especially if he snores loudly
Unusual nocturnal awakenings
Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, especially if you experience daytime sleepiness and/or behavioral issues
Please visit the National Sleep Foundation to learn more about your child’s sleep habits. And here are many restful nights ahead!
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