Sleep deprivation and how it affects children, caregivers, and educators [Podcast]

This week on The Preschool Podcast, we are honored to have Tiffany Semmons join us to talk all about sleep deprivation and how it affects children, educators, and caregivers. Tiffany is an Early Childhood Executive Director, a Children’s Book Author, and the creator of So Much Semmons.

Sleep deprivation exists in both quantity and/or quality and happens in children and adults. Educators can impact families by spreading more awareness around sleep deprivation, especially with parents as many are not aware of the trickle effects sleep deprivation can have. The entire family needs to be well-rested to create a safe space for a child physically and emotionally. Sleep impacts your choices, temper, and mood constantly.

Here are some tips for decreasing the likelihood of sleep deprivation:

  • Sleep is not cookie cutter, everyone needs different amounts of different qualities of sleep. Find out what is right for your family!
  • Review your sleep patterns (and your childrens) with your health care provider
  • Keep a sleep diary and jot down things you notice around sleep in your family or classroom for a few weeks. See if you notice any trends or behaviours that could be changed
  • Sleep can be impacted by food and water intake as well. Make sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs to thrive!

Sleep deprivation can make it hard for educators to properly care for children. When parents are sleep deprived they may not provide their children with everything they need to succeed in care. This leaves educators dealing with students that are irritable and cranky and may be dropped off late or with inadequate supplies. Educators end up spending extra time in their day getting children back on track from the side effects of sleep deprivation.

Listen to the full episode to dive deeper into sleep deprivation and its impact on children!

It is important that children see the benefits of sleep and not view sleep as a punishment

Tiffany Semmons

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Podcast Transcript

Tiffany SEMMONS:

Now we’re dealing with the effects of those children who are so overtired that maybe now they’re not sleeping. So, we’re losing out on those pockets of time during the day where we’re supposed to be having that rest period because we’re going the whole stint of the day trying to help children get back on track emotionally.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Tiffany, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

SEMMONS:

Hi, I’m so happy to be here!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We’re delighted to have with us on the Podcast today Tiffany Semmons. She’s an early-childhood executive director, a children’s book author and creator of So Much Semmons. We’re pretty excited to talk to Tiffany today about sleep, something we all love – I know I certainly love sleep. But sometimes we don’t get enough sleep; sometimes we’re a bit deprived of our sleep, which has an impact on us, not so surprisingly. So, excited to talk to you about that today, Tiffany. Before we do, let’s start off learning a little bit about you and how and why you got into the field of early-childhood education.

SEMMONS:

Sure. Well, one, I just want to say thank you for having me here. I’m so excited to talk more. And I got introduced to early-childhood education at a very young age. I come from a family of educators, so it’s no big surprise that I am here today as an executive director of a preschool program. Education has always been a big part of my life and my upbringing. And so naturally, I just fell into this amazing career. And I’ve learned so much being here.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. And you’re in Maryland, in the US?

SEMMONS:

Yes, I am located in Maryland, where today the weather is nice, but yesterday it wasn’t.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Well, it’s not very nice here. So, you’re on the right direction; we’re in the wrong direction. But it’s all good, we make the best of it. It’s good sleep weather, actually – it’s raining, so it’s a good segue.

SEMMONS:

I love it, I love it when it rains. Yes, that’s the best sleep weather in the world.

RON

Yeah, exactly. And actually, this is also a very relevant topic for me today because I’m feeling a little sleep deprived. Our two-year-old hasn’t slept the greatest couple of nights

SEMMONS:

Oh my goodness.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, usually he’s a really good sleeper. So, let’s talk a little bit about that, starting off with I think we’ve all experienced sleep deprivation. But maybe you can talk a little bit more about the specifics of what is sleep deprivation and then what happens when we are deprived of sleep?

SEMMONS:

Sure, yes. Well, sleep deprivation occurs when a person does not have enough sleep, either in the quantity or quality. And some signs of just identifying if you have sleep deprivation is a consistent yawn or dozing off or feeling groggy upon waking up. Or possibly grogginess all day, poor concentration, shift in mood, a little bit more irritable. And sleep deprivation can actually happen in children and adults.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And it’s actually kind of funny that we’re having this conversation because just the other day, I was talking to somebody about how when adults have sleep deprivation, we almost have like the same behaviors as young children, but we just try to be a little bit better about it socially.

SEMMONS:

Yeah, we do.

RON

Or I’m sure lots of folks who are listening today have experienced a sleep-deprived two- or three-year-old and it’s not pleasant.

SEMMONS:

Yeah, and an adult tantrum is not received the same as a child tantrum. It’s very real, it is very, very real, the effects that sleep deprivation can have on a person, starting with the mood shifts and just being irritable. It can really affect your day and your concentration, just getting through the day in general. It changes you into that other person. Almost like that personality that you get when you’re hungry, sleep deprivation has its other personality, as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, exactly. And so what do you think the role of early-childhood educators is here, in terms of supporting parents who might be struggling with sleep deprivation, in particular those with young children who maybe aren’t sleeping very well themselves at night?

SEMMONS:

Well, I think that early-childhood educators are in such a unique position to really impact families in a greater way by spreading more awareness about sleep deprivation. A lot of people are not really familiar with that term, so just bringing it to the forefront of a parent’s mind that, “Hey, this does exist and it does affect you, it does affect your parenting,” would be the best start to combating that issue.

We are in a position to start explaining to our parents how important it is for them to be well-rested, as a unit. Then they can understand why their mood and their concentration and how all of that plays into creating a safe space for that child physically and emotionally. And when parents are driving or correcting their child and making everyday decisions, whether they know it or not, sleep is impacting their choices, their temper, their mood, their ability to stay awake, again while doing everyday things like operating a vehicle, from even just correcting over simple things such as spilled milk, that can all take a turn when we’re sleep deprived.

So, we should really express to parents that we want them at their best and that we want to continue to partner with them on their child’s individual road to success. Educators can also express to parents how important sleep deprivation is as it impacts their child’s academic success, their behavior in school, and tie that back into their irritability at home, as well.

It’s just as important for them to have a healthy dose of sleep as well as it is important for us adults. The main goal with children, though, is to make sure that they don’t see sleep as a punishment. So, it’s important to tell them all the benefits. We can identify ways to help parents figure out routines that work best for their children at home and in the classroom.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s an interesting point because I think most children fight the idea of going for a nap or going to bed. But kind of putting a more positive light on it in explaining the benefits is putting it into perspective.

SEMMONS:

Oh yeah, I have a three-year-old and a four-year-old. And my four-year-old is really the one that struggles with sleep and the routine. But my three-year-old is like her shadow. So, even if he’s not struggling with sleep, he just wants to be like his big sister and he wants to be involved. So, she says, “Hey, let’s get out of the bed and go see what mom’s doing or dad’s doing.” And one gets thirsty, the other one gets thirsty.

So, it’s like a game of whack-a-mole every night for my husband and me. And it’s like, we don’t really whack them, if you’re familiar with that game. But it’s like this whole idea of, you put one down and the other one pops back up. It is just the constant thing. And it’s so funny because some nights you will wake up and one child will be in the bed, and then we put that child back. We wake up again, the other child is there. It’s so funny because the night before last, I had these fuzzy socks on. And when I woke up, they were off my feet and my daughter had them on. They were, like, hanging off her feet. So, not only are they sneaking into our bed, they’re taking our socks off, too.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I can certainly relate to some of those experiences – not the socks one specifically, but definitely the whack-a-mole analogy, that’s for sure. So, sleep is super-important. What are some tips for parents who are struggling with this?

SEMMONS:

Well, sleep is such a… when we talk about getting an adequate amount of sleep, it’s so broad. It’s like saying to someone, “Well, eat the right foods.” Well, the “right foods” for everyone is different. We have people that have food allergies; we have people that have intolerances. So, it’s the same thing with sleep. Just saying, “Go to sleep,” it’s not so cookie-cutter. Some of us have different health or medications or outside factors that affect how much sleep a person gets or the quality of sleep a person gets.

So, my first, because I’m not a doctor or anything like that, my first suggestion is to review your sleep patterns with your health care provider. That’s the best way to figure out if you have a sleep problem. You can also keep a sleep diary for one or two weeks when you go to bed and just jot down things like your caffeine intake. If you are taking alcoholic beverages, you want to make a note of that; nicotine, and if you’re getting the right amount of food and water intake. You want to make sure that it is in fact sleep deprivation. So, writing those things down is a great way to kind of measure what that looks like for you.

But other practical ways are to find ways to get more rest. If you know it’s not a serious concern, but it is definitely something you can improve upon, you can look at your schedule, look at your work day and things like that, and look at what your routine looks like and possibly come up with different ways to improve how your day-to-day activities are. That might be getting a baby sitter so you can take a load off or outsourcing help so that if you work a long day and you still need to clean, finding balance with that laundry service or things like that, if those are things that you can do. Or if you’re in a position to work less or change your hours, things like that, just finding practical ways that works for you and your family.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I found for me – not that I’m doing that much exercise these days, I need to get back into a routine – but exercise really helps, too, because you lay down in bed and put your head down on the pillow and you’re really out.

SEMMONS:

Oh yeah, exercise is super important. I’m not going to say that I’ve been going to the gym – I should be. But during this pandemic, I have picked up a love for weighted hula-hoop. So, if you are a person who can’t go to the gym or can’t get out, there’s definitely at-home activities. And I’ve found that the weighted hula-hoop has just been super fun and not strenuous. But it doesn’t even feel like working out.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Oh, cool. Yeah, I think there’s stuff you can do like that, that even if you just kind of take a five minute break and just sort of do a weighted hula-hoop or do a little bit of stretching or jumping jacks, whatever suits you, movements movement. So, it’s all good.

SEMMONS:

Oh, yeah.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And Tiffany, other than dealing with sleep deprivation as a parent of young children, what got you into sleep hygiene? And why is it so important to you?

SEMMONS:

Yeah, that’s a great question. So, other than having two children that hate the thought of bedtime, I started getting more interested in it because I felt like it was bigger than just going to bed on time. And I started looking at my own mood and my own productivity and how I operate at work and how I operate with other adults. And I started seeing that sleep deprivation, it has the ability to create more of an impact on the other aspects of my life.

I know that from being sleep deprived that there are nights when I would love to stay up and watch a TV show. But I’m like, “Oh, I can’t stay up because I’m so tired.” Or if a couple of girlfriends say, “Hey, let’s go out tonight,” I might not have any responsibilities, but now I might be so tired that I pass up on things.

So, I saw that sleep deprivation was starting to impact other areas of my life. And that is part of the reason why I started getting so interested in it. I know it’s hard to kind of take parenting out but that was another big part of it. Just being that parent who is trying to be gentle and have a gentle approach with my parenting style, that became a thing, too. I realized that when I’m tired and less focused, I’m a little bit more irritable.

And as a mom and as an educator, I am very passionate and big on being gentle with my children. And I saw that there was a difference between [saying] “Okay, guys, it’s time to go to bed now,” versus, “Okay, get in the bed.” I hate putting my kids to bed on a bad note; and I hate tears before bedtime; and I hate that feeling of after they’re in the bed and all that’s done with, feeling like I haven’t accomplished much because now they’re sad and I’m sad. And so it just, as a mom and then just personally, sleep deprivation, I saw that it was just impacting so many different areas of my life outside of parenting, as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, I can certainly relate to that. And I guess just thinking about, as a parent and how it impacts me in my ability to be a kind and caring parent and have the patience, I can only imagine how much bigger of a challenge that is if you’re an early-childhood educator and you’re doing this every day.

And Tiffany, what about you as an executive director of an early-childhood program? I’m sure you’ve experienced some sleep deprivation yourself. I’m sure you’ve seen it in some of your employees and staff. Any examples you can provide of how you’ve helped manage that with your programs?

SEMMONS:

Sure. So, especially during this pandemic, sleep deprivation has become even more of something that we’ve been experiencing as a staff and as a whole. We have worked tirelessly through this pandemic to serve our population of students. And it has been very challenging. Dealing with the parents and children who are dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation is one aspect of it.

Just watching parents come in, day in, day out, just completely exhausted and exasperated from their own work schedules, and you can see that in just their drop-offs. Sometimes they’re late to drop-off, sometimes they forget the items that they should be bringing in. And then we get the student who comes in and is irritable or frustrated or tired, cranky. And we see it there. That in turn does affect my staff because now we’re burning out trying to kind of get things back on track.

So, I spent a lot of time in the classroom helping coach through these things. And I can see firsthand how the effects of sleep deprivation is affecting the teacher, as well. Because during times like nap time and periods like that where we’re supposed to be lesson planning and things like that, now we’re dealing with the effects of those children who are so overtired that maybe now they’re not sleeping.

So, we’re losing out on those packets of time during the day where we’re supposed to be having that rest period because we’re going the whole stint of the day trying to help children get back on track emotionally. And so what that looks like is teachers taking work home and having that there in addition to their household responsibilities. So, I can clearly see teachers burning out because the work has to be done. It’s just finding that time to get it done while keeping children safe and emotionally regulated.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, which I think just all goes kind of full-circle to some of your earlier points, which is just around sleep can impact your life in so many ways. And just like your energy, your productivity, your patience, it’s so, so important. And I’m glad that we were able to talk to you about it today because it’s not something we really talk about very much.

SEMMONS:

No, not at all, not nearly as much as we talk about washing hands and covering our mouths. We don’t talk about sleep like we’re supposed to. And hopefully, I hope that that changes because it’s such a big part of our day.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Absolutely, it’s almost like the enabler of all the other things that you do. Without it, you can’t do those other things effectively.

SEMMONS:

Yes.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s why I’m glad we were able to spend some time on it with our audience here today and hopefully something we’ll have the opportunity to dive into a little bit more. Before we wrap up here today, I did want to ask you a little bit about So Much Semmons and what that’s all about.

SEMMONS:

Sure, I am so excited to tell you a little bit more about what I’ve been working on behind the scenes to create resources for parents like us who have children that are restless and curious at night. So Much Semmons is actually a publishing house that creates literature, blogs and resources that deal with the joys and exasperations of parenting. It’s a safe space to come and say, “Hey, I love parenting, but I’m very tired,” or, “I don’t understand this,” or, “Hey, can you help me with this?” That is what So Much Semmons is all about. The phrase “so much” was coined by my four-year-old daughter, and “so much” means “I love you”. It’s actually a phrase that we say every night and every time we leave the house. It’s short for, “I love you so much”.

So, this brand is all about family and creating family cohesiveness so that we can all operate better as a unit. This year – this next March, actually, this this coming March – is National Sleep Awareness Month. And for National Sleep Awareness Month, So Much Semmons will be launching its first children’s book, titled What Did We Miss? Now, it’s a tale geared for ages four to eight but is sure to make parents laugh. It’s a bedtime story told from the perspective of two restless but curious children given more insight on what children believe parents are doing at night and what we’re really doing. In this story we find out in bedtime is a party or if it’s a chore. And depending on who you ask, it’s both, to be honest.

Because for the child, bedtime… I don’t know, they just get so rejuvenated. But for the parent, it’s a chore because we’ve got other things to do. We’ve got responsibilities. And children don’t quite understand that our day doesn’t stop when they go to bed. Sometimes it’s just getting started. So, I’m so excited to be launching this book on Kickstarter, as of March 1st. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. And I’m hoping to reach this goal to get this book out as a resource to parents and educators and families who love books and just want to end bedtime on a great note. So, I’m excited for that!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

That sounds very fun. I can certainly relate to some of those points. And yeah, for some reason, my children’s energy level goes up 10 times when we tell them it’s bedtime and they have to get their pajamas on. That’s usually, like, jump-on-the-bed time.

SEMMONS:

Yeah, it’s party o’clock. It got so bad at my house during the pandemic that I actually went on Amazon and bought a bounce house. I’m like, “You know what? You want to jump on something, go in there and jump.” And they love it. It just helps with getting them that physical activity. And because with the pandemic and things, just the uptick in numbers, outdoors and some facilities and things like that, it’s been so much harder to get into. So, I kind of got a little desperate and went on Amazon.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, why not? Good idea, keep them active. And hey, they’re jumping on something, might as well go with the flow. And if our audience wants to get in touch with you or learn more about So Much Semmons and the upcoming book, What Did We Miss?, where can they go to get more information?

SEMMONS:

Sure, so anyone who’s interested in the book can visit www.SoMuchSemmons.com. And on my website you can sign up to actually be notified of the launch. And you can also check out our blog pages for more information on just cool topics, sleep and funny stories. And in my business or on my website I really try to use a dose of humor to combat frustrations. So, you’ll see a lot of that on my website. I combat frustration with humor, even with my children. So, if they are irritable and things like that, I find that humor to be a great tool to kind of snap them out of that frustration. And I’m excited to share that with you all, as well.

I also have a group on Facebook and it’s called My Kid Won’t Sleep. So, if your kid has just got that whack-a-mole syndrome, kind of thing like mine do, and if you have one or more, this is a great community where there’s educators, parents and the like, book lovers, who come and we just laugh and have a lot of fun. We talk about how our kids don’t sleep. And that community has grown to about 757 people, I think, since last March. So, we’re super excited for the launch of the book.

And this community, they also help me pick all the things related to the book, like they’re helping me decide my cover; they help me build the characters; they help me with some of the rhyming scheme in the book. It’s literally like one group project where we all come together and build this amazing tool and resource.

I may be a little biased, but the characters are so super, super cute. I’m going through an agency called Advocate Art Agency in New York City, where I’m originally from. And I had an awesome, awesome editor who used to be a former Disney editor who was helping me bring more whimsical and funny features to the book, as well. So, I’m excited about that. So, definitely check out that group on Facebook, My Kid Won’t Sleep.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, what a great project. And just before we wrap up, Tiffany, for our hungry learners out there that are listening today, any other professional development resources you would like to share with them?

SEMMONS:

Sure, so if there is any educators out there who feel like this conversation resonated with them but they don’t know how to have that conversation with the parent about their child’s sleep schedule, or if they want to suggest it to the parent themselves but they don’t know how to open up that topic for conversation: I recently took a course through Athari Learning, and they have this course called Having Hard Conversations. And I recommend that course in Athari Learning as a resource for educators looking for different ways on how to speak to parents in a way that is healthy so that it can be taken well.

So, that’s definitely one of the resources that I would share. It’s called www.AthariLearning.com. And you’ll find amazing tools and just information on how to start those conversations with parents because it is a hard conversation. It’s right up there with bringing candy in for breakfast. So, some parents, they may be more willing to hear what you’re saying if you’re coming from a place of true, sincere concern and if you’re approaching it in the manner of what’s best for the child. Because ultimately, that’s what we want to do – we want to have children succeed and we want we want the parent to succeed, as well. But we want the teacher to be able to help. And so like you said earlier, it’s like one big cycle. Like, we’re all on this loop together and we’ve all got to kind of get connected to make it work.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, I mean, hard conversations are a big part of an early-childhood educator’s job. So, that sounds like a great resource. Wonderful, Tiffany, thank you so much for spending some time with us to talk about sleep hygiene and sleep deprivation, something I think almost everybody can relate to and such an important subject. Thanks for joining us on the Preschool Podcast today!

SEMMONS:

Thank you so much, thank you for having me!

Christie White

Christie is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at HiMama. She is passionate about children's development, parenting, and supporting the child care industry. She has been working to support child care centers with their events and marketing for almost a decade. In her personal life, Christie lives in Stouffville, ON with her husband Kyle and dog Tucker. She enjoys going for walks, baking, cooking, and watching reality tv!

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