Play and Sleep: Brain Development in Children

Play and Sleep: Brain Development in Children - Resthouse Blog

It's the middle of summer, and hopefully kids are out playing and having a nice break from school. I'm a firm believer that play is as important as school time, as is sleep, of course. Whether it’s rough and tumble physical play, arts and crafts, imaginative make believe, or even just dancing; every kind of play is valuable for different parts of our children’s developing minds. However, with devices becoming a bigger part of our daily lives, they are not only encroaching on our kids’ sleep time but also cutting into their play time. Here's what I've been learning about... 

How important is play for brain development?

A playful experience is a learning experience. Play is one of the most effective tools to promote brain development in children. Not only is it valuable for success in school, it also helps establish a wide variety of life skills. Let’s take a look at some of the functions play stimulates.

  • Developing social skills: Children establish boundaries between friends and learn how to pick up on social cues through play. This allows them to figure out when certain play is appropriate or not, and pick up on how other children react to it.
  • Gaining emotional control: Play can teach children how to identify their feelings, and help them learn how to manage their reactions to emotionally challenging situations.
  • Growing self awareness and regulation: While playing, our children learn how their behavior can affect other children, and how to manage their physical and emotional  impulses.
  • Expanding creativity: Exploring make believe and imagination stimulates the creative region in our children’s brains. 
  • Building self-confidence: Children will gain self-assurance, establish new friendships, and strengthen new skills, as they discover and immerse themselves in the kind of play they most prefer. 

  • How important is sleep for brain development?

    After a full day of school and play, we all know how important it is for children to get a good night’s sleep so they can be well rested for the next day. However, sleep for a developing mind goes far beyond just feeling rested. Sleep is the “glue” that holds all of our children’s knowledge and ideas together. Let’s dig deeper into why sleep is so vital. 

  • Digesting information: While sleeping, our children’s brains have time to review, digest and store the knowledge they have collected throughout the day. 
  • Creating connections: During the night, our children’s brains begin developing connections; “mind highways” as I like to call them. This allows new or stored information to be connected with other related ideas.
  • Increasing memory: Sleep is crucial for creating effective and long lasting memory systems in our children’s growing minds.
  • Encouraging behaviors: A healthy sleep schedule decreases hyperactivity and encourages positive, independent behavior in children. 
  • Improving receptiveness: A good night’s sleep allows our children to reach optimal alertness, a state where they are most receptive and interactive. When our children are well rested, they are responsive and motivated. 
  • Physical growth: On top of our children's mental health being nurtured by a restful night, the hormone that promotes physical growth is primarily released during sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial for growing children. 

  • The effects of play and sleep on ADHD:

    As someone, among many, who has lived with ADD my entire life, I was grateful to stumble across a section about ADHD (and ADD) in my research. Unsurprisingly, play has a calming, therapeutic effect on children who have ADHD. It can help them to overcome feelings of restlessness, and provide them with an energy outlet. Additionally, a proper sleep schedule can significantly improve classroom performance, attention span, and relationships with peers. 

    After having delved deeper into the subject of children, play and sleep, it is clear that setting boundaries is key to the wellbeing of our children. Balanced guidelines around the use of devices, making a variety of play a daily habit, as well as getting our children to bed on time, are all practices and routines we can be mindful to hold strong. Throughout their developmental stages, play and sleep are two vital ingredients in nurturing and supporting our children’s growth. Keeping this in mind as we ready ourselves for Back to School, will be essential for our children’s successful school year. 

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