Zzz! The Active “Sleeping” Brain 

By Brenda Lord, TLC Preschool Teacher

Sometimes you're too tired to even make it onto your nap mat before Zzz

Sometimes you're too tired to even make it onto your nap mat before Zzz

Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are busy people. Parents and teachers alike know that young children can be constantly in motion as they learn to move through and explore the world around them. As children are engaging with their surroundings, their brains are flooded with new information. We all know that sleep is important, and many assume that sleep is critical for resting our bodies, especially for active toddlers. However, research indicates that this is not the case. 

Building Brains

Surprisingly, the brain is more active when one is sleeping than awake! When young children and adults are sleeping, their brains are busy building and strengthening connections within the brain. Words, movements, and ideas that are introduced to children while they are awake get built into more permanent knowledge while they are asleep. If children or adults are deprived of sleep, research indicates that learning simply can’t happen. Also, when you are tired, your brain is not as good at filtering out distractions and focusing on tasks. Loss of sleep in both children and adults hurts attention, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and physical movement. 

Naps improve the brain’s day to day performance. These short bursts of sleep are critical for developing bodies and brains. The information from children’s rich and social learning environments in the mornings can be solidified into lasting memories during their afternoon naps. 

Creating Good Sleepers at Home

Many children thrive on routines and structure. Recognizing this, the TLC classrooms have well-established routines around quiet time. Children are used to having quiet time at the same time each day in a darkened environment with cozy blankets and relaxing music. Their bodies become accustomed to slowing down at this designated time. Establishing nighttime routines at home might make evenings more relaxed and getting children to sleep more successful. Taking baths, reading books, and snuggling together might be part of your bedtime routines. In addition, deep pressure exercises and calming yoga poses can be effective at quieting young bodies. Doctors also recommend that children should not have any screen time—computers, TV, video games, cell phones—at least an hour before bedtime. These video screens produce blue light which affects melatonin production, a hormone that signals your body that it is time to sleep. Creating and sticking to structured bedtime routines is important for helping children establish positive, lifelong sleeping habits. 

Napping is for Everyone!

Lastly, some great news for adults! Those naps that we envy our wobblers and toddlers taking are just as productive and valuable for adults. In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots’ performance by 34 percent. Unlike our children, adults, unfortunately, are rarely able to have an afternoon snooze. Even though biologically our brains are programmed to slow down between 2-4 pm, work schedules and the realities of life usually make naps prohibitive. When you get the afternoon slump, recognize that this is normal. Nap if you are able; otherwise, try not to schedule important meetings at 3 p.m. Your body will thank you.