Blog Post 2

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain,
A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep.
(For Every Age)

“Sleep Readiness” is the title of Chapter 11 of the United States of America Department of the Army field manual (FM 7-22) that prepares young men and women to become soldiers.  It is the official document that describes how all young recruits will acquire necessary skills during the process that is sometimes referred to as basic training or “boot camp.”  Updated in 2020, it is based on empirical data using traditional scientific methods.  I have lightly edited, added emphasis, and condensed Chapter 11 in order to show you how “Sleep Readiness” can also help parents help their child sleep better.

Initially, I will post parts of Chapter 11 (Blog Posts 1 through 5) to emphasize the value of healthy sleep and then I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length; for now, only read the single, age-appropriate Chapter for your child.  Later, if you wish, read Chapters on What is Healthy Sleep, Why Healthy Sleep is Important, and Preventing Sleep problems.  Finally, if needed, read the Chapter on Sleep Solutions.

            Let’s go!

Chapter 11
Sleep Readiness
From the United States of America Department of the Army field manual (FM 7-22)

PRINCIPLES (Continued from Blog Post 1)

SLEEP DURATION

            “Cognitive ability and readiness vary as a direct function of the amount of sleep obtained.  The more sleep Soldiers [Children] get, the greater their mental acuity, with faster response times, fewer errors, and fewer lapses in attention.  Also improved are judgement, problem-solving, situational awareness, mood, resilience, and general well-being-to name but a few key Soldier [Child] attributes.”

            Soldiers [Children] and leaders [Parents] frequently ask “what is the minimum amount of sleep needed to maintain military effectiveness?”  There is no clear threshold amount of sleep below which effectiveness is compromised and above which effectiveness is sustained.  The relationship between sleep duration and cognitive readiness (and thus military effectiveness) is best thought of as a continuum, with more sleep always producing improved performance.

SLEEP TIMING

            Human beings are diurnal, designed to be awake during the daytime and to sleep during the nighttime.  A portion of the brain that serves as an internal clock-sensitive to the timing of sunrise in the morning and sunset in the evening-largely controls these sleep-wake tendencies.  This sensitivity keeps the brain’s clock synchronized with the outside world.  During those hours that the brain’s clock has learned are local daytime hours, the brain produces output that facilitates activity and wakefulness.  During those hours that the brain’s clock has learned are nighttime hours, it signals brain deactivation, thus promoting sleep.  People who work at night might be less productive and less well-rested since they work when their brains promote sleep; and they try to sleep when their brains promote wakefulness.  Likewise, this is what causes “jet lag.”

            “Maintaining a consistent sleep-wake schedule on both duty [weekdays] and non-duty [weekends] days has the benefit of strengthening and reinforcing the internal wake- and sleep-promoting processes controlled by the brain’s internal clock.  These processes constitute the “circadian rhythm of alertness.”  Individuals who maintain consistent sleep-wake schedules (especially on arising at the same time each morning and experience their first exposure to daylight at the same time each day) derive maximum benefits from the circadian rhythm of alertness, with well-consolidated sleep at night and optimum alertness during the daytime [Optimum alertness supports a child’s personal best].  A consistent and regimented schedule of sleep– and wake-related activities [Sleep regularity] helps to lock in other biological systems associated with circadian rhythms.  These include hormone release, digestion, muscle strength, and cardiovascular performance.  Circadian rhythms act in tandem with the need to sleep which builds throughout a day.  The rhythms optimize the process of falling asleep, staying asleep, and ensuring quality sleep [Sleep quality].”

            Although the circadian rhythm of alertness generally promotes a 24-hour cycle of daytime wakefulness and nighttime sleep, there is also a temporary afternoon “dip” in alertness.  This dip becomes especially noticeable in individuals who have a significant sleep debt.  Soldiers [Children] can generally take afternoon naps.

SLEEP CONTINUITY

            The restorative value of sleep is determined not only by the duration of the sleep period, but also by the continuity of the sleep period-that is, the extent to which the sleep period is continuous and uninterrupted [Sleep consolidation].  During sleep, the brain fixes and transforms new memories into usable knowledge.  When sleep is interrupted or shortened, the beneficial effects of sleep are reduced.

[The United States of America Department of the Army field manual (FM 7-22) begins with these basic principles.  My book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child begins with: “There are five elements of healthy sleep for children:

  1. Sleep duration
  2. Naps
  3. Sleep consolidation
  4. Sleep schedule, timing of sleep
  5. Sleep regularity.

When these five items are in proper balance, children get the rest they need.”]

(To be continued.)

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