5 Reasons Sleep Matters for Children
We all know that sleep is essential to children’s health. The parents who diligently work with their children to develop healthy sleep habits will see healthier and happier children.
When children go to sleep each night, their brain cells "take out the trash," meaning the body repackages chemicals that enable brain cells to communicate. Brain cells also flush out disease-causing toxins when a child is asleep.
How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?
Once children start pre-kindergarten or elementary school, they will need 11-12 hours of sleep per night. At this age, children have given up their daily naps due to an increase in school activities and classroom work, and therefore require more sleep at the end of the day. As a child approaches his/her adolescent years, this amount decreases to 9-12 hours of sleep per night. During these years, children may start to show signs of sleep deprivation. According to researchers at The University of Michigan, sleep difficulties during adolescence can cause fatigue and lethargy, as well as problems with concentration and memory. This can lead to poor performance in school and trouble forming friendships.
To help parents understand why bedtimes matter, here are five reasons children need sleep to thrive:
1. Sleep Helps Your Child Grow
For a child to grow, a gland deep inside the brain called the pituitary gland must release enough growth hormone. Natural growth hormone is released during deep periods of sleep according to researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg.
When a child’s body does not release enough growth hormone, he or she may show slow growth. Sometimes, decreased amounts of growth hormone lead to facial features that make a child look younger than their peers. A few nights of poor sleep won't impact a child’s growth, but chronic sleep problems can.
2. Sleep Keeps the Germs Away
When children sleep, they produce proteins known as cytokines, which the body uses to fight infection, illness, and stress. When a child doesn't get enough sleep, the number of cytokines they produce decreases. It’s been found that individuals who sleep fewer than seven hours per night are almost three times more likely to develop a cold when exposed to a virus than those who sleep eight or more hours.
Since the amount of sleep you get affects your immune response, many hospitals are now adjusting policies to help patients get more sleep. They are instituting quiet evening hours and reducing unneeded nighttime interruptions so patients can get the sleep they need to heal properly.
3. Sleep Leads to Better Behavior
When a child sleeps more, they behave better. A study published in Sleep Medicine showed that children who bully other children or fight at school were more likely to be sleep deprived. The study reported that sleep problems occurred twice as often in children with poor school behavior.
Another study published in Academic Pediatrics showed that parents and teachers reported more behavioral problems in seven-year-olds who didn’t get enough sleep during their toddler and preschool years compared to peers who got an age-appropriate amount of sleep during those years.
4. Sleep Helps to Fight Diabetes in Children
When children get enough sleep, their body can react to insulin levels better. Insulin is needed to control the levels of glucose in the blood. A study in Pediatrics found that when children don't get enough sleep, they have higher body mass indexes (BMI), higher insulin resistance, and higher glucose readings. All of these are risk factors for Type II diabetes.
The study reported that an increase in sleep duration by one hour was associated with a 0.2 lower BMI and a 3 percent reduction in insulin resistance. It’s clear that increasing sleep is a very simple, low-cost intervention for Type II diabetes in children.
5. Sleep Combats Symptoms of ADHD
According to The Sleep Foundation, children who have poor sleep habits may exhibit more symptoms associated with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Inadequate sleep can negatively affect the way kids think, function and behave. In fact, one study found that treating sleep problems might be enough to eliminate attention and hyperactivity issues for some children.
Another study from BMJ suggests that when parents are taught to implement healthy sleep routines, the severity of ADHD symptoms declines. Families reported improvements in their children’s ADHD symptoms, sleep, behavior, health-related quality of life and daily functioning, and teachers reported improved behavior. Additionally, the children tended to have improved working memory and were not late for school as much as they were before getting adequate sleep. The parents who participated in this study also reported a decrease in the number of days they were late for work.
What Can I Do to Make Sure My Child Gets Enough Sleep?
The three most important things you can do are:
1. Be consistent with bedtime schedules and routines.
2. Set age-appropriate bedtimes and stick to them, even on the weekends. You cannot put your child to bed at midnight on the weekends and expect them to be able to fall asleep quickly on weekdays.
3. Remove all screens from your child’s bedroom, including small devices that have notifications or beep during the night.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Getting Enough Sleep?
· They can fall asleep within 30 minutes.
· They can wake up with relative ease and without consistent nagging.
· They seem mentally alert throughout the day and do not need a nap.
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. The damaging effects of sleep deprivation are evident everywhere we look. Children need quality sleep habits so that they can lead mentally and physically healthy childhoods. Consistent bedtime routines for children will benefit everyone in a family.
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