Sleep and Growth: The Impact of A Good Night’s Sleep in Children
Sleep is an important aspect of every person’s health and wellbeing. It is essential to have enough sleep, no matter how old you are. However, it is especially crucial for children, our seniors, and those who have health issues. For now, let us focus on sleep and its impact on children.
What is Sleep?
Sleep is the body’s way to allow it to recover and prepare for the next day. Every child has different kinds of activities each day. Toddlers play and explore almost all day. Preschoolers start to give more attention to learning things. School-age children have lots of activities in school to keep them busy. When the evening comes, the body, especially that of a growing child, needs to rest and sleep.
Stages of Sleep
As your little one drifts into a peaceful slumber, you begin to think about what happens in his/ her little dream world. A lot happens, not only in the brain but also to the whole body. There are five stages of sleep. It takes about ninety to one hundred minutes to complete one sleep cycle. A child gets an average of four to six sleep cycles each night. To give you an idea, here are some facts about each stage of sleep.
Stage 1 is when the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) phase starts. A child can easily wake up at this stage. A simple push or a sudden loud noise from outside your house can disrupt your child’s sleep.
After about five to ten minutes, your child starts to enter stage 2. The muscles relax, the heart slows down a bit, and the body temperature slightly drops. The breathing also starts to slow down at this stage.
Stage 3 is the start of the slow-wave sleep. The brain waves slow down than normal at this stage. Blood pressure drops further down but not to a dangerous point. Your child’s temperature is also lower than that of Stage 2. Your child is difficult to wake up at this stage.
At this stage, muscles relax further, and the breathing gets slower. If a child wakes up at this stage, he/ she might be confused and then, get back to sleep. There might even be no memory of what happened. It is the stage when sleepwalking and talking happens.
Stage 5 or REM
The last stage is the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. It is when there is a constant movement of the eyes. REM is the stage when dreams occur. It is the time when your little one might experience nightmares or night terrors.
What is the Impact of Sleep in Children?
Sleep is one of the main factors that affect a child’s brain development. From birth until adolescence, a person’s brain continues to develop until the time it reaches its optimum state. There are several theories on how the brain works when a child sleeps. According to studies, sleep plays a big role in how the brain stores new information learned during the child’s waking hours. It also has an impact on how a child learns to solve problems and cope with stress.
Sleep requirements different from one child to another. Most preschool to early school-age children, ranging between five to twelve years old, sleep for about seven to ten hours per night. Sleep experts suggest that at this age, they need a solid ten to twelve hours of sleep to support their growth and their activities each day.
Now, what happens if a child does not get enough sleep? When an adult is sleep deprived, he/ she feels tired and restless the next day. It is the same for children. What makes it worse is that children have less capacity to handle their emotions and stress than adults. Sleep-deprived children may experience decreased focus and difficulty following directions. They may also get triggered easily from loud noise or a misunderstanding with a friend, classmate, or sibling. School activities that are usually easy may seem to be more difficult to accomplish.
Ultimately, constant sleep deprivation in children may result in stunted growth, slowed physical and mental development, and weak immune system. Children who have less sleep are more prone to infections and immune diseases. Studies have also shown low mental development in children who sleep less than four hours per night.
Little Children, Big Dreams
Children have wonderful imaginations, which is a vital part of growing up. Some may even be reflected during their dreams at night. As mentioned earlier, dreams happen during the REM stage of sleep. While some might remember their dreams or parts of it, most do not.
Many studies have been conducted to understand how children benefit from dreams. According to recent research, dreams are related to the brain’s ability to store learnings and memories. Some sleep experts suggest that dreams are the brain’s way of understanding what is happening around us. Therefore, for a child who is in the process of learning, it is beneficial to reach the REM stage to help him store good memories and the things he learned during the day.
Tips For a Good Night’s Sleep
Children have different ways to fall asleep. Some get sleepy easily, while others may take several minutes to hours trying to catch some zzz’s. Here are some useful tips to help your child have a good night’s sleep.
- Develop and practice a daily bedtime routine. It should be done every night at the same time. It will your child’s signal to prepare for bed and will help him/ her form his circadian rhythm.
- Do calming activities such as taking a warm bath, bedtime reading, or gentle massage.
- Prevent foods and drinks that can stimulate your child, including sodas, iced tea, and chocolates.
- Avoid screen time before bedtime. It includes watching TV and playing on phones and tablets.
- Avoid scary shows or movies in the afternoon or at night. These might scare your little one, which makes it harder for him/ her to sleep.
- Do not let your child engage in rigorous activities before going to bed, such as exercising and running around the house. While exercise and physical activities are beneficial for your child, it is best to do them in the morning.
- Let your child try therapeutic items that help a person relax and sleep faster like a weighted blanket for kids or a weighted plush toy.
- Dedicate the bed for sleeping. As much as possible, let your child do other activities in other designated places like a study table for home works, book reading, and board games. This way, the body will recognize that it is time to relax and sleep when a child lies down on the bed.
Your child needs proper nutrition and enough sleep to support proper growth and development. Several factors might affect your child’s sleep. If your little one has difficulty sleeping, you might need a consultation with a sleep doctor to know your options to help your child sleep faster. One of the best sleeping aids is a weighted blanket for kids, which decreases stress and anxiety. In turn, it promotes good and prolonged sleep. Ultimately, take time and be patient when putting them to bed. Hug them a little longer and watch them doze off into a peaceful slumber.