According to new research from Washington State University Spokane, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep helps children convert experiences and new information into long-term memories. Their exploration of children’s sleep needs also found that antidepressants and stimulants are disruptive to this important stage of sleep.
Published in the journal Science Advances, Professor Marcos Frank and his team showed that in young animals sleep specifically assists with vision development. As the new world is explored around them, brain circuits change in the visual cortex to accommodate those new experiences, but REM sleep is the key to saving those changes and all new information.
“Experience is fragile,” Professor Frank explained. “These traces tend to vanish without REM sleep and the brain basically forgets what it saw.”
For young children, their brains go through critical periods of taking shape—as speech, language, social skills, motor skills, vision and other cognitive functions are developed. REM sleep also helps adjust the strength of neuronal connections in the brain to match information received from the environment, making learning much easier as the memory database grows.
Some medications could get in the way of the REM sleep’s magic abilities, specifically drugs that affect brain activity –including Ritalin for attention deficit disorder and a list of antidepressants. Professor Frank says that more research is needed to find out how common medications prescribed for children impacts the brain in the short and long term.
Making sure children are getting the proper amount of sleep can be a challenge for many parents. Nonetheless, knowing how much snooze they need is a great place to start. Open up the conversation about the importance of sleep in your home and allow your children to participate in creating a soothing sleep routine.
“There is a lot of data accumulating that says the amount of sleep a child gets impacts his/her ability to do well in school,” stressed Professor Frank. “This study helps explain why this might be — and why we should be cautious about restricting sleep in our children.