The Benefits of Bedtime Reading

Sleep deprivation has become a huge issue with children in the UK.  Recent research by BBC’s Panorama shows that there has been a tenfold increase in the number of referrals to the Sleep Lab in Sheffield Children’s Hospital over the last decade.  It also shows that sleep deprivation can reduce academic performance by up to 2 school years.

One of the reasons contributing to children not being able to get to sleep and becoming sleep deprived is the reliance on tablets and smartphones at bedtime.  Blue light emitted by smartphones and tablets is known to reduce the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy.

Tablets are being used as a replacement of bedtime shared reading with parents, who are too busy, or too tired to spend what should be the most important and special 15 minutes of their day with their children.

Experts who have worked with distraught parents whose children won’t go to sleep have found that in most cases, there is nothing medically wrong.  It is simply a matter of establishing a good bedtime routine, to cut out any interaction with tablets etc. at least an hour before bedtime and to enjoy some shared reading.

Not only will bedtime reading help get children to sleep, research has also shown time and time again that reading has a huge positive impact on children’s lives.  Reading frequently and reading for pleasure when younger has a bigger impact on a child’s academic success.

Bedtime reading is the perfect time to inspire children about books, to develop their love of stories, enhance their imagination and quench their thirst for knowledge.  Learning to ‘enjoy’ reading is more important than ‘learning to read’.  If children develop this love of reading at a young age, they are more likely to continue reading as adults.

Bedtime reading is not necessarily the best time to force tired children to read their school book.  Let them choose their own bedtime reading book, and it doesn’t’ matter if it is the same book over again.

It is never too early to start bedtime reading.  Long before babies speak, they absorb information about language.  Becoming familiar with books and understanding how books work is an important stage of learning to read and should start as early as possible.

Don’t forget about wordless books. Parents who read wordless books tend to use richer language, more complex sentences and longer phrases than those who read a printed story.  Wordless books also allow children to tell stories themselves from different perspectives, encouraging them to use their own words.  They often promote discussion more than books with words, which leads to better comprehension.

Don’t stop reading books to your children just because they can read. It is a great time to share longer chapter style books which may be too difficult to read independently, but can be enjoyed together, opening up a whole new world of language, vocabulary and knowledge.

Bedtime can also be a good time for siblings to read to each other.  Older siblings will enjoy the responsibility of reading to younger siblings, their confidence will grow and their reading skills will benefit.

Parents’ engagement with children’s reading plays a huge part in their reading skills, the desire to read for themselves and ultimately – enjoyment of their own reading.  Children need to see that reading is an enjoyable activity, not just a process of deciphering a secret code of letters and sounds.

The single most important thing you can do to help with your child’s development and education is to enjoy bedtime reading together as often as possible for as many years as possible.  It is the key to giving children the best possible start in life.

By Liz Walker, Founder of Reading Chest

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