Stories about: Sleep

Understanding Our Children’s Dreams

Dennis Rosen, MD is the associate medical director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and author of Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids.

Dennis Rosen, MD

We all dream during sleep, some more vividly than others. While we may not always pay attention to what happens in some of our dreams, they can be extremely vivid, and associated with a wide range of emotions (sadness, fear, joy) that carries over into wakefulness. This is as true for adults as it is for children: in fact, many adults can recall in great detail dreams that they had decades earlier as children.

Throughout history, humans have viewed dreams and their content as significant, often making important decisions based upon them. Interestingly, though, the tendency of many in our modern society is to ignore them. Indeed, many parents dismiss their children’s dreams, particularly those that are disturbing, as being “only” dreams, instead of cause for reflection.

Kelly Bulkeley, former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and his mother Patricia Bulkley, whose doctoral dissertation was about the dreams of the dying, are the authors of the book Children’s Dreams: Understanding the Most Memorable Dreams and Nightmares of Childhood. This book is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in dreams, why they emerge, and how to try and make sense of their content.

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Could starting high school later be healthier for teens?

Lack of sleep can affect academic performance in teens.

According to experts, teenagers need a little more than eight hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, (surprise, surprise) most teens aren’t listening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that only 31 percent of high school students get eight or more hours of sleep on an average school night.

This is upsetting news because poor sleep is tied to a lot more than a teenager having a bad attitude when she’s tired. Insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity. Sleepy drivers are more likely to get in an accident, and sleepy students tend to do worse on tests than their well-rested peers. Teens who average less than eight hours of sleep per night are also more likely to drink, do drugs and indulge in inappropriate sexual behavior.

Clearly our teens need more sleep. But as any parent will tell you, telling a teenager to go to bed earlier is one thing—getting her to actually do it is something else all together.

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How closely related are a good night’s sleep and good behavior?

A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics found that 7-year-old children with regular bedtimes are less likely to display behavioral problems during their waking hours than those children without fixed bedtimes.

Interesting, but not exactly earth-shattering, news.

“I don’t think that anyone with a 7-year–old child at home will be surprised to learn that well-rested children are typically better behaved,” says Dennis Rosen, MD, associate medical director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital. “While it’s nice to have the scientific data, these findings will probably only reinforce what most parents already know.”

While the study may not hold any breakthrough revelations, it did reveal that behavioral issues in children without set bedtimes could be reduced or eliminated once bedtimes are introduced. In other words, even if your child doesn’t have a bedtime right now, it’s not too late to start enforcing one, and doing so could correct or lessen behavior problems your child may be having.

So, if behavior is becoming a concern in your house and your child doesn’t currently adhere to a regular bedtime, now might be a good time to start.

According to Rosen, consistency is key in setting up bedtimes and helping kids stick to them. To do so, he suggests the following:

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Want your preschooler to succeed? Make sure he gets…a nap.

If you want your preschooler to get a leg up on school, the best thing you can do may be to make sure he gets a nap after lunch.

That’s the finding of a study just released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers studied 40 preschool-aged children, between 3-5 years, and found that they did a much better job on visual-spatial tasks when they slept for an hour after lunch—and the benefits even lasted until the next day!

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