x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

School's pyjama party teaches ABCs of a good sleep

Girls at Al Ain American School prepare for a nap as part of a day showing them the importance of a sleeping routine.
Girls at Al Ain American School prepare for a nap as part of a day showing them the importance of a sleeping routine.

AL AIN // Dozens of youngsters passed the gates of Al Ain American School holding a milk bottle in one hand and a cuddly toy in the other - dressed in their favourite pyjamas.

The "Pyjama Day" held last week was part of an effort to get the three- and four-year-old children into a sleeping routine, something often neglected in the region.

After their usual morning lessons, the 120 children gathered in their indoor playground ready to start their bedtime routine.

They brushed their teeth, sang along to nursery rhymes and watched cartoons as they ate popcorn and drank milk. After a bedtime story, they were ready to be tucked in by their teachers for a midday nap.

"We want them to develop a routine before bedtime, that way their body will know when it is time for bed," said Abeer Mohamed, the class coordinator.

"We also want to encourage them to sleep more. It is very important for them to get used to sleeping early at a young age before it is too late. It is vital that children are taught the importance of sleeping, especially in this region."

Staff at the school said some of the youngsters have difficulty staying awake during lessons.

"Some children sleep in the back of the class," said Nikky Henderson, one of the kindergarten teachers, who is British. "My son is four and his bedtime is 7.30pm every day. Arab children tend to stay up longer."

The school nurse has also seen children, especially older pupils, who come to the clinic for a nap.

"Hopefully, if they develop a routine at this early age, they will keep at it when they are older," Ms Mohamed said. "We tell them they should sleep by around 7pm or 8pm at the latest.

"Because there is TV and internet, all of this keeps children up. We want to encourage them to read to help their imagination grow. A child-mother relationship is very important too - this is something they can share through reading."

Dr Ali al Menyawi, a paediatrician at Saudi Arabia's Maternity and Children's Hospital in Mecca, said the lack of a sleep routine could lead to bad behaviour.

"Sleeping is very important, especially for the young as growth hormones increase in sleep," Dr al Menyawi said. "Sleep-deprived children can be aggressive and very moody, affecting their school performance."

Dr Kanita Dervic, a child psychiatrist at UAE University, added: "Activities that educate about and promote good sleep hygiene are important.

"Sleep disorders, which can sometimes start as early as age three, are common in childhood, and research shows that up to 25 per cent of all children experience diverse sleep problems."

osalem@thenational.ae