Importance of Sleep for Children
By: Maryanne Taylor, The Sleep Works
Studies have shown that learning good sleep habits from childhood can impact significantly on our health and wellbeing in adulthood. Sleep is so important for our growth, health and development and improves our overall quality of life.
Sleep for growth: The deep stages of sleep triggers the body to release a hormone that promotes growth in children. Newborn babies spend on average 50 percent of their time in deep sleep, which enables their bodies and brains to grow as necessary.
Sleep for immunity: During sleep, children produce specific proteins which the body require in order to fight infections and illnesses. If they do not get sufficient sleep, their body will not produce sufficient numbers of these proteins to protect their immune system which makes them get sick more easily.
Sleep for concentration: Symptoms of sleep deprivation and ADHD, which includes a tendency for getting distracted and lack of focus, are almost identical. Managing mood and impulsivity is often largely down to insufficient sleep so improving quantity and quality of sleep improves a child performance and ability to learn new skills.
Sleep for alertness: Contrary to what we may think, a child’s brain is super busy when sleeping. Every night and at every nap, sleep is recharging the ‘batteries’ in the brain, which in turn allows a child to feel physically and mentally more relaxed which will increase alertness and energy levels.
So what is healthy sleep?
Healthy sleep requires a mix of a few different elements:
- Sufficient quantity of sleep
- Good quality of sleep, ie: long stretches of uninterrupted sleep (notwithstanding night feeds for younger babies)
- Daytime naps as needed, depending on age of child
- A consistent pattern to a child’s day and bedtime, which fits in with natural body clock rhythms
Top Tips for good sleep:
- A bed time routine is a powerful cue leading up to sleep time. It needs to be simple, comforting and predictable with calming and quiet activities and should take place in the child’s bedroom.
- Help your child learn how to fall asleep on their own, without a sleep ‘crutch’ such as being fed, rocked to sleep, or holding your hand. Initially put them into crib or cot drowsy but not fully asleep.
- An attachment to a security object or ‘lovey’ can help your child feel safe and secure if he/she wakes up during the night or to help with separation anxiety.
- The old saying ‘sleep breeds sleep’ is true, so contrary to what you might think, a child who fills their sleep tank during the day will sleep better at night.
- Don’t feed before each nap. Feed them when they’re up and alert instead of ready to go to bed, as this helps weaken any food/sleep association
- Waking too early in the morning can be caused by too late a bedtime or not enough sleep during the day.