The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is this powerful regenerative process built directly into your genetic structure.

Sleep balances your spirit, mind, and body

Spiritually, it transforms moody, difficult emotions into sweetness and stabilisation.

Cognitively, it transcends muddled thinking and creates clarity.

Physically, it releases physical tension and pain and creates smooth movement and relaxation.

Sleep is the great neutraliser and reformer.  Yet, when we MOST need sleep, we are most likely to DENY ourselves sleep, often due to the dynamic needs of a multidimensional life, with many competing factors in play. This is doubly true for parents. Loss of sleep under some conditions is necessary and may cause no long-term effects but longstanding sleep deprivation can create insidious problems. Sleep plays an important role in learning and memory consolidation. Sleep deprivation can result in memory loss and diminished fine motor and cognitive skills. It can impede response time in crisis situations, and increase psycho-emotional problems. This is true for children and adults. Lack of sleep, for an extended period of time can result in increased pain especially in muscles and joints (and is seen as a major contributor to pain syndromes such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia).

What about children? How much sleep do they need?

For children six years old and younger, 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night is best. Babies and toddlers require 12 – 14 hours of sleep.

There is a direct correlation between lack of sleep and an increase in oppositional and aggressive behavior in children. Children who have a long period of sleep deprivation have increased risk of anxious and depressive complaints, including school avoidance or phobias, and separation anxiety. There is a vicious cycle in sleep loss:  lack of sleep leads to anxiety with difficulty falling asleep, which leads to increased sleep loss. This can create a challenging negative pattern at bedtime for both parent and child.

The following behaviors may cue sleep deprivation:

Lack of listening, trouble paying attention in school


Oppositionality, especially at transition times and sleep time

Complaints about physical and emotional issues – especially in a temperamentally compliant child

Whining, again especially in a child whose temperament is happy and easy-going

Children with sleep issues have difficulty with transitions and difficulty creating an inner sense of structure.

Follow these steps to incorporate a better relationship with sleep:

Go to sleep and awake each day at the same time.  It is detrimental to short yourself sleep all week, this results in a bankrupt sleep vault – even when you sleep in an hour or two on both days of the weekend.  Think of sleep hours as lost and replaced on a 1:1 basis.  This will help you adjust to shifting your habits around sleep and understand how much sleep you need to avoid sleep deprivation.

In general Adults: 7-9 hours of sleep a day; school age children:  9-10, (some need 12 hours though elementary school); however this can be personal – pay attention to your own emotional, cognitive, and physical needs for what feels best for you.

Chinese Medical Theory identifies an important rejuvenation cycle that requires being asleep by 11 pm; use this as a guide to sense what is best for you.

Drink 2-3 litres of water a day for an adult and a litre for children (more if you are involved in moderate exercise and sweating). Water is essential for cellular health, and it has a positive effect on your cognitive and physical health when you are dealing with a moderate sleep loss. Dehydration can cause headaches, muscle tension, dizziness, cognitive issues, and insomnia.

Practice deep and mindful breathing.  Meditation, focused breathing, Yoga, and exercise keep mind, muscles, and spirits integrated and working well. Oxygen is an important component in mind, and physical health.  Create mini-meditation, or focused-breathing sessions throughout your day – at the supermarket line, waiting to begin a meeting, at the traffic light; Model this for your child.

Exercise moderately for 30 minutes a day or 5- 6 hours a week.  A moderate amount of exercise helps to create a space for sleep to happen at bedtime.

Dehydrating fluids including caffeine and alcohol, and smoking, can increase sleep issues – so consider either not using these or using them minimally.

Protein, high-fiber, calcium, vitamin, D, magnesium, and foods that are rich in anti-oxidants omega-3, and choline are very helpful with sleep, blood flow, and brain health.


Listen to calming music

Write down thoughts that may be interfering with your sleep,

Meditate or pray

Avoid TV, or computer screens (turn these off at least 45 minutes before sleep). Computer and TV screens have intermittent lights that excite aspects of your brain making it difficult for you to relax and fall asleep.

If you have no allergic issues, the use of these calming teas – licorice, chamomile, and lavender – reduce your heart-rate and get you in the mood for rest. Essential oil sprays can induce relaxation as well – and can be used with children and babies with success. Rosemary, rose, rose-geranium, clove, cypress, and citrus oils/sprays are very effective for over-thinking, fearful feelings (for a child who has nightmares or night terrors) anger, irritability or obsessive thoughts.

Creation of a comfortable routine for sleep includes a step-down in activity, beginning 60 to 90 minutes before sleep, can be an easy way to initiate effective sleep habits.  This structure will provide a sense of security.

Remember to be flexible within the larger structure; rigidity increases anxiety and stress and detracts from the relaxing routine.  Allow fine-tuning and adjustment to your sleep schedule, mindfully incorporate the above information, to initiate a profoundly positive shift in your overall lifestyle.

Dr Beth Gineris synthesises perspectives from her three graduate degrees (in business, counseling, and oriental medicine), and her understanding of spirit/mind/body integration from over 25 years of mindful meditation practice, and east/west philosophical study, into her guiding work and writing. She works as a psychotherapist/life coach, seminar trainer, and doctor of oriental medicine with her psychiatrist husband in an integrative medical practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is the author of Turning NO to ON:  The Art of Parenting with Mindfulness (Aug.2011). Her new book, Turning Me to We: The Art of Partnering with Mindfulness is due out in December 2012.  You can find more of her work at, or follow her on Twitter.

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