LIMA — Sleep, nutrition and exercise are a well-known recipe for good health, but the combination is especially important for children now, and their brain development, education expert Ann Anzalone told a group Friday.
The three simple but very important things help children’s brains develop well, Anzalone said.
“Adults can miss sleep and be just fine. Children cannot. Protect children’s sleep. It’s the most important thing,” she said. “Eat protein for breakfast. And get exercise. Human beings are meant to exercise.”
Anzalone spoke at the 15th annual training on early childhood development provided by Allen County Family and Children First Council at Lima Memorial Health System. About 100 teachers, counselors, social workers, medical professionals and parents from 15 counties in the region attended the day-long training, divided into two halves: growing a healthy brain through sleep and through exercise and diet.
“Allen County Family and Children First is made up of agencies that all work directly with families and children,” Family and Children First Coordinator Jennie Horner said. “We put this on every year to educate our local professionals. This is an emerging topic, how sleep, diet and exercise is linked to learning, and it’s a message we want to get out to educate professionals and parents.”
Anzalone is a nationally known teacher consultant. She holds teaching certificates in elementary education, special education, learning disabilities and behavior disorders. She also teaches graduate classes and provides foster parent training.
Losing sleep results in cognitive delays, Anzalone said.
“We also have high incidents of attention deficit being diagnosed, and the first thing to ask is it really that or is it sleep deprivation,” Anzalone said. “Are they sleeping? Staying asleep? Are they waking easily when they need to? Deep sleep also boosts the immune system, so if they’re not getting enough, they’ll be more prone to illness.”
Parents should pick a bedtime and stick with it, with a routine before bedtime. Children should avoid food or liquids two hours prior to bedtime. Rooms should be completely dark; if a nightlight is needed to fall asleep, it should be turned off after. Warm baths help at night because when your body is cold, it’s harder to go to sleep.
And turn off the technology.
“We stay up later — it’s one more game, one more webpage. The screens also affect us; the light from digital screens affect melatonin, so you can’t fall asleep as easily,” Anzalone said.
Jessica Gehret works for Allen County Help Me Grow doing home visits with prenatal moms and families with children up to the age of 3. She said the day helped her develop specific practices and suggestions for parents she supports, including bathing, diet and activity, sleep position, specific scents and deep pressure treatments for night terrors.
“A lot of parents have questions for us about sleep and nutrition, so it’s always good to get more resources and more information to get to them. The more informed parents can be, the more they can help a situation,” Gehret said. “Sometimes parents can get frustrated and give up.”