Why REM sleep is vital for a child’s memories

We all know how beneficial a good night’s sleep is. But a new study suggests that dream sleep, or REM, might play a crucial role in the development of children’s brains.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is an important phase in our nightly sleep cycle. It happens before you fall into deep sleep and is when you have the most vivid dreams. The findings could explain why compared to adults, babies spend such a high proportion of their sleep in REM.

The authors of the study made their discovery by taking a look at how sleep affects vision development in young animals.

During the day, our eyes take in all sorts of information like when we’re reading books, surfing the net or simply taking a walk. Tiny, yet important changes are made in our brains because of this activity. But unless we experience REM sleep, the changes don’t ‘stick’ and can be lost. REM seems to solidify these experiences within the brain.

One of the authors of the study, Professor of medical sciences Marcos Frank explains in the video below:

Professor Frank also compared the process to old-fashioned photography.

“REM sleep acts like the chemical developer in old-fashioned photography to make traces of experience more permanent and focused in the brain,”

We all know how open to suggestion kids are – but Professor Frank says children’s brains are constantly being remodelled, to develop vision, speech, language, social skills and more. REM sleep helps the brain to grow and adjust to this remodelling.

5 tips to get kids to bed

To make sure kids get enough REM sleep, we’ve come up with 5 tips on getting your little rascal off to bed on time.

1. Make it fun

Telling a story is a great way to get kids to bed – but try leaving cliff-hangers instead of finishing each night, so the next night they’ll want to get into bed to see how it ends.

2. Have a routine

Having a bedtime routine is a great way to get kids to bed as they’ll mentally prepare as soon as the first step of the routine kicks in. A study in the journal Sleep discovered a routine can improve sleep in children who had problems sleeping.

3. Remove distractions

Turn off the TV, take away computers or other devices, and shut the doors at least an hour before going to bed. Have some relaxed family time instead.

4. Make bedrooms fun

Buy some fun kids bedding and use it to make a tent over their bed. Put their favourite cuddly toy in there and climb in with them until they’re asleep.

5. Go monster hunting

Kids sometimes don’t want to go to bed as they’re scared of the dark. Both of you can go monster hunting beforehand to make sure the room is clear. Leave a night light on to provide some illumination.

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