Friday, 15 March 2013

sleep - notes from John Axelsson

I am married to a sleep researcher - which has its benefits - I learn a lot. It also means he has to go away on lectures and conferences, leaving me with the three children and life... which I know is doable, and I know millions do it every day - but I don't, so it does feel a bit more tiring when normal routines are suddenly offset. Tomorrow he sets off for France and will be gone for 10 days - which means I am not sure how much blogging I will be doing in the coming week - either I will blog a lot for company or not at all because I am too tired... time will tell.

But back to the benefit - learning stuff...

For ages I have been trying to get him to talk more about preschool children and sleep - and he has applied for research money to do research on preschool age children and napping etc - the problem is there is not the same interest in funding research for young children as there is in researching adults...

Luckily he has done some research on health and sleep, and the last preschool I worked at was a part of that project - the teachers at least (me included) - and as part of that he said he would give a talk about sleep to teachers and parents about sleep - he of course could provide all the information about sleep, and I contributed a little with some preschool facts and what possible areas would need to be covered...

Hopefully this will not be the last time he talks to parents and teachers of preschoolers - getting good sleep habits is important - and its maybe harder for parents now when there is more and more blue light (TV and screens) and after school activities stimulating children... but more of that later...

So to what was said (in note form) -

  • the brain has 5-6 arousal systems (light, activity, stress etc) that need to be switched off before falling asleep - which means if it is too bright, or the brain is too active or stressed then it will be impossible to sleep. Some people are better at switching off these arousal systems than others and can thus fall asleep faster.
  • Deep sleep reflects what we have been doing during the day. The parts of the brain that have been activated during the day sleep deeper during the night to help recovery and plasticity.
  • stressed people may fall asleep later, but they will get the same amount of deep sleep - its just their sleep patterns will look different. Problems ocurr for people who wake up during the night unable to fall back asleep.
  • when we sleep we block stress signals to the brain.
  • teenagers are more evening people and not morning people
  • sleep is important for filling up the energy level in the brain which makes focussing on activities easier. People with low brain energy (ie lack of sleep) need to change activity more often to help maintain focus (this can be seen in night shift workers who need to change their job activity more frequently).
  • sleep supports the immune system.
  • sleep helps learning - synapses levels are reduced during sleep so that they are more receptive to learn/connect
  • when the brain is tired, the part that is feeling over used/tired can actually locally sleep!!!
  • REPEAT - SLEEP - the best way to learn
  • sleep allows memories to move from short term to long term
  • Sleep helps process the emotions that you have experienced during the day - this allows you to react less strongly/more appropriately next time
  • with a lack of sleep it is not only harder to create long term memories but also harder to keep control of your emotions - much more likely to swing between emotions - angry is more angry, sad is more sad and happy is more happy and you have the chance of experiencing them all in a short period of time...
  • sleep shortages - short term risks are accidents. Long term risks are health problems.
  • Those who have too little sleep will have problems with their hunger regulation - they will feel MORE hungry - this means that overweight is also connected to lack of sleep - and the health problems that come with being overweight.
  • Tips for good sleep hygiene - physical activity, being outside in the morning ( as if you are exposed to light in the evening it can stimulate you and keep you awake), wind down before bedtime, routine sleep times, don't go to bed hungry (eat regular meals), warm socks - its harder to fall asleep if your feet are cold (and from personal experience I can vouch for this as I have problems keeping my feet warm - I have great cozy socks now). In the room where you sleep - a calm sleeping environment, cool and well ventilated, dark, good bedclothes that are breathable. Understand and accept that occasional disturbed sleep will happen.
  • low music can help collect thoughts and reduce stress and thus help the falling asleep process
  • night terrors are harder on the parents than on the child
  • In sweden we stop giving our children naps earlier than any other country in the world - its a modern invention to stop napping at a young age. If a child falls asleep after lunch they should be allowed.
  • rest time (ie lying still but not sleeping) is valuable as even though it does not allow the brain to recover as sleep would, it does allow for stress reduction.
  • people with insomnia should not nap
  • if a child does not nap during the day as usual and falls asleep around 5pm instead, allow the child to sleep for 20 minutes... if the child does not wake easily after 20 minutes try 10 minutes later  - as deep sleep lasts about 30 minutes.
  • Children with a lack of sleep are at risk of reduced emotional control, hyperactivity, cognitive disturbance and risk for overweight.
  • If your child snores it is worth getting them checked out by a doctor - to rule out sleep apnea and increase sleep effectivity
  • when it is the parents that are in control of bed times the children tend to have better sleep and perform better in school than children who control their own bedtimes.
  • Children with many out of school activities have less sleep - due to a combination of stress and evening activities stimulating the brain.
  • blue light (screens) stimulate the brain making it harder to fall asleep, so its a good idea to avoid TV and screen time before going to bed
Well those are my notes. When John returns from his conference in France - I will be asking some more questions - if you have any please ask them in the comments - and I will try to make the next sleep post relevant ... as you will understand from my blog, I am interested in supporting early years settings and families of preschoolers - so please try to keep your questions focussed in this area...


  1. from Jackie Musgrave (from a facebook group link of the blog)

    "I did a big response to your very interesting post, but it disappeared! What I wrote was that children with chronic conditions, such as eczema, have significant sleep problems. The parents I interviewed for my research told me that they slept in shifts thoroughly the night. The children in my research (birth to three) were often fractious during the day and found it difficult to concentrate on activities. This can obviously have an effect on their early education . Lack of sleep can also mean that children do not reach their optimal growth because human growth hormone is secreted durin periods of sleep. Very interesting subject. You may enjoy having more room in your bed while your husband is away, your sleep may benefit!"

    Thank you so much for the valuable feedback - Suzanne

  2. Super great article, did you give more details on the sleeping habits.