The power of sleep is often underestimated. Adults spend about one-third of each day sleeping. Children sleep for up to 12 hours a day. Sleep helps our bodies recharge, heal and grow. If your children are not getting enough sleep, these natural processes are being interrupted. To encourage you to help your kids get enough sleep, read about the top five reasons kids need sleep.
While scientists don’t understand everything that happens while we sleep, they do know that REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep is imperative for brain development. If children do not sleep long enough or deeply enough, their brains might not have sufficient time to develop, which could cause learning delays or problems later. Ronald Dahl, an author and specialist in the field of pediatrics, places sleep in the top three things children need to develop properly, the other two being adequate nutrition and loving caregivers.
Behavior and mood
Just as adults do not function well on little sleep, children too are affected. From infancy, children are fussy when tired. Babies generally demand to be put to sleep, or fall asleep themselves, but toddlers often fight going to sleep, making them grumpy during waking hours. I remember how gratifying it was for me when my oldest daughter, who was not a great sleeper, finally realized sleep was not the enemy. She was about 3 years old and asked to be put down for a nap because she was tired.
A British study concluded that children with irregular bedtimes had more behavior problems during the day than those with consistent bedtimes. A report on a series of studies in Psychology Today notes that children with poor sleep habits are more likely to have behavior consistent with ADHD. If your child is struggling with behavior issues, consider his or her sleep patterns.
To grow physically
Non rapid-eye movement sleep (NREM) is the sleep that is responsible for helping bodies grow, heal, boost immunity and release needed hormones. The cycles between REM and NREM sleep change as we age. Babies spend about 50 percent of sleep time in each state.
Anyone who has raised a child from infancy notes sleep increases as growth spurts occur. I notice it happening with my school-aged children as well, although not as often. If you notice your children needing more sleep for a few days, help them go to bed early and let them sleep in if possible. They are probably growing and need the extra sleep.
Sleep and learn
The human brain is amazing. As we sleep, it is working hard. Sleep is crucial for children who are learning and growing. Without enough sleep, kids will not be able to focus at school. Additionally, kids’ brains keep working while they are asleep, enforcing concepts taught throughout the day and solidifying them. Recent studies show that babies can learn while they are sleeping, and quickly. I have found my babies practicing gross motor skills at night while asleep, and sometimes waking up to work on crawling or standing.
Kids who have fevers often sleep for hours at a time. Sleep helps the immune system work hard to heal the body. If your children are not sleeping enough, their immune systems might be compromised, making it easier for them to stay sick and harder for them to get well if they contract an illness. When your children are ill, encourage them to rest and nap as much as possible, thus helping their immune systems work most efficiently.
If you are concerned about your child’s sleep patterns, consult with a doctor. Overweight children often suffer from sleep apnea. Children with enlarged tonsils can also have trouble breathing while sleeping, which makes deep sleep difficult. It is normal for children to go through periods of time when they cannot sleep well. For example, toddlers and preschoolers often have night terrors or separation anxiety. But when these problems keep children (and parents) from sleeping well, it’s time to seek help.
Although you can’t force your children to sleep (believe me, I’ve tried), you can have consistent bedtime routines and create a sleep-inducing environment that will encourage them to get the sleep they need. For happy, healthy kids, sleep is key.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.