Sleep offers great benefits to youngsters, even older people too

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

The grass is always greener — and the lights are always perfect — on the other side of the nap mat.

The moments before nap time at Holy Family Catholic School can get a little hectic.

Young children are wired yet tired from the morning’s activities; teachers are looking forward to a few moments of quiet.

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But once the mats come out, the lights go off and the heads find their resting spot all is right with the world.

Or is it?

“I want to play all day,” Holy Family preschooler Jayla Harris said. “I sleep in the morning; I don’t want to sleep at school. I like to wake up so I can get ready to eat (snack).”

Many young children agree.

Naps are for babies, and they simply don’t want to miss out on any of the fun.

But parents and teachers know best, adults say.

“When they take naps, students are in a better mood and they can take on any task that any teacher gives to them,” Holy Family Educational Director Ira Young said.

Young is right, said Lisa Phillips of The Parenting Center at the Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge.

“Sleep in the early years is really critical for a lot of reasons,” said Phillips, a social worker. “During the early years is a tremendous percentage of the growth and development. Their brains are growing and changing.”

Phillips said sleep affects a young child’s mood, behavior, motor skills, concentration and planning.

But none of that matters to a 4- or 5-year-old child who knows that older children and adults don’t nap. And sometimes Mom and Dad can’t do anything about it.

Mom Jamie Gibson said her son Ashton, now 7, said goodbye to nap time early.

“Ashton wouldn’t take naps in kindergarten. He’d stay awake, but then he’d nap when he got home,” Gibson said. “He was excited when he didn’t have to take naps. He’d tell me, ‘I’m a big boy now. I don’t have to take naps.’”

Young said that mentality is pretty common among the kindergarteners she’s taught.

“In kindergarten they think they are growing up and getting older and feel that they don’t need a nap,” Young said.

But that may be far from the truth, parents can tell you.

Kindergartener Landon Lynch was a good napper at home, mom Monica Lynch said.

And making the jump to a much shorter — perhaps less restful — nap at school was tough.

“When Landon started (school) this year and he lost a true nap at home, I thought he wasn’t going to make it (through the day).”

To accommodate the loss of the two-hour nap he was used to before starting kindergarten, Monica and her husband bumped Landon’s bedtime up an hour.

But Lynch said the bedtime change and lack of a true nap has created a few challenges for her family.

“It made 5 p.m. worse,” she said. “That 5 to 6 p.m. is an awful time period. I guess it’s because we’re trying to get homework done and dinner on the table and bath time over before bedtime.”

West Primary School teacher and mom herself, Stephanie Bourke said she’s seen what a missed nap can do too.

Her son Gabriel, 6, doesn’t get long naps in his kindergarten class like he was used to at home, she said.

“Now at 3:30 when we hit the car, he goes to sleep,” she said. “And my son M.J., who is in preschool here, if he didn’t get a nap he would be so beside himself. He needs that shutdown, restart and reboot, per say.”

Phillips said parents and children coping with a shorter nap time need to make schedule adjustments at home.

Young children need on average 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night, she said. And those transitioning into school and losing a substantial nap may need an earlier bedtime and an after school routine.

“Greet them with a snack,” Phillips said. “And before I start the evening rush, I’d have some quality cuddle, low-key time on the couch. Look at a book together; take a break from the stimulation of the day.”

It’s that break that teenagers and adults say they miss. Sometimes “big kids” want a little rest too, they said.

Juggling extra curricular activities and school work, ACCS senior Mindy McCall said nap times would make days much easier to get through, and young children and their families should embrace the downtime while they have it.

“They just don’t know what they have until it’s gone,” McCall said.