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Sweet Dreams, Bright Minds: How Sleep Impacts Learning

Sleep is such a polarizing topic. As a parent, sleep can be one of the most stressful things that we stew over again and again. Is my child getting enough sleep? Did they "eat, play, sleep" like the app told me I was supposed to do? Is it time to drop the nap?


As a parent that’s been through the sleep saga, I know firsthand that every child is different. For example, my daughter needed a lot of love and attention to fall asleep. Bedtime was a PROCESS! On the other hand, my son, (much like his mother), did not want to be touched, talk to, or bothered at bedtime. He simply wanted to hear a story, dropped in bed, and was fast asleep.


As a preschool teacher, sleep is also a pain point! It is apparent when a child walks into the room with very little sleep, and you will see these impacts throughout the day. And, the struggle of getting 12, three-year-olds quiet and napping on a mat in the same room at the same time is real!


When it comes to sleep, there are so many different opinions and viewpoints. However, one opinion that is proven by science is that sleep is vital for optimal brain development and learning. Sleep is one of the KEY factors in brain development. It contributes to numerous physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits for young children.  Ensuring that children's basic physical needs are met, including sufficient sleep, is important for creating an environment conducive to effective learning. 


What Happens in the Brain When Children Sleep?

While children sleep, amazing things are taking place in the brain that have a direct connection to learning. 


When we sleep, our brain consolidates memories from our experiences.  During sleep, our brain engages in a remarkable process of consolidating memories acquired throughout our waking hours. This involves the transfer of information from short-term to long-term storage, aiding in the organization and retention of experiences.


 Sleep is also a time for synaptic pruning. This is a time when the brain filters out unneeded information. This filtering ensures that the retained information is relevant and essential for optimal cognitive functioning.

Sleep is also linked to how we process information.  Research indicates a direct link between sleep and long-term word retention in young children. As they sleep, the brain actively contributes to building and strengthening their vocabulary. This underscores the importance of quality sleep in fostering language development and knowledge retention for our little ones.

Read the research article, which highlighted a study showing that children that napped during the day retained great word knowledge than those who did not nap.


My Favorite Literacy Bedtime Routines!

  • Use a picture schedule to sequence your bedtime routine.  Refer to the schedule often as you work through the steps (bath, get dressed, brush teeth, read, etc.).  

  • Embrace literacy in the bathtub.  Sing songs and nursery rhymes, play with foam ABC letters, read books while your child is splashing around, and join my free Literacy in the Tub email list.   

  • Sing the ABCs or a nursery rhyme while your child brushes his/her teeth.  

  • Embrace reading your child’s favorite book again and again, even when you have read it 100’s of times.  Repetition builds brain connections!  Ask them to “read” the story to you.  

  • Create a storytelling tradition.  Use the quality time to invent exciting stories together.  Continue building on to your story throughout the week.  Encourage your child to retell the story from the previous night and build on.   

  • Attempt to minimize screen time before bedtime, as it can stimulate the brain rather than promote a sense of calm before sleep.  

Preschool Teacher?

Sleep conversations with families can be tough, especially when it is clear that the child is coming to school exhausted. Here is a handout to help aid in the conversation, in partnership with my friends at Teaching Sweet Sleep!


Download the Handout!

Sleep Handout
Download PDF • 231KB


My Favorite Bedtime Books!

Ages 1-3:

· Llama Llama Nighty Night! by Anna Dewdney

· Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton

· The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton

· Big Enough for a Bed by Apple Jordan

· Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep by Mo Willems

Ages 3-5:

· Froggy Goes to Bed! by P.D. Eastman

· Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems

· Jammy Dance! by Rebecca Janni

· Naomi and the Secrets of Going to Sleep by Dr. Jonathan Kushnir 

· The Girl Who Got Out of Bed by Betsy Childs



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Moving Little Minds is dedicated to helping schools and parents improve literacy instruction for young children using engaging, research-based practices, trainings, preschool classes, and materials.


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Axelsson, E. L., Williams, S. E., & Horst, J. S. (2016, July 27). The effect of sleep on children’s word retention and generalization. Frontiers.

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