Sleep is vital to health for everyone but most importantly to children, due to their rapid growth and development in such a small period of time. It is estimated that children should sleep for approximately 50% of the day. This is essential to the development of a child as their behaviours, memory and social skills mature significantly during this time. Sleep studies show that if a child is sleep deprived they may not develop and learn to their full potential and also their physical health could be compromised too. And so, it is important to ensure children get the correct amount of sleep to ensure their development isn’t affected.
New-born (0-3 months)
A new born baby will sleep approximately 10 to 18 hours a day (depending on the individual) in an irregular schedule with around 1 to 3 hours awake at one time alone. Sleep at this stage is dependent solely on physical instinct such as when they need to be fed, changed and nurtured.
A baby at this stage will mostly sleep in the REM (rapid eye movement phase) stage when sleep is lighter and more easily disrupted. REM sleep is considered incredibly important for a new born as it is thought to be necessary for the development of the brain. Furthermore this is when a child learns face recognition and initially bonds with the mother, and forms the first social interaction where individual behaviours occur. If sleep is disrupted significantly at this stage it could affect a child’s association with the initial world and their social bonds later in life.
Infants (4-11 months)
At this stage, an infant will sleep at more regular times than a new born and generally through the night for approximately 9-12 hours with a couple of 2 hour naps through the day. At this age infants start to develop their social skills significantly and sleep can often be disrupted due to the brain being overly alert to these social situations. If an infant feels secure and attached to their parent then they generally have better sleeping patterns. This is important to emotional development and could affect how someone sleeps and acts when they are older.
Toddlers (1-2 years)
At this stage a toddler will get approximately 11-14 hours of sleep a day, with nap times decreasing to only once a day. At this age a child is learning their own independence and their motor, cognitive and social skills start to speed up. This can often affect a child’s sleeping pattern as they become over enthused with all new situations that they refuse to sleep and become moody and irritable, causing a knock on effect on their behavioural skills. It is important that a child doesn’t get too frustrated and lose out on quality sleep as it is detrimental to development and if a child doesn’t get the required sleep then it may affect their progress in the future. It is essential to maintain a consistent regular bedtime routine to ensure the process is stress free as much as possible and to calm down the activity in the brain. If this is achieved the toddler will have better quality sleep and a happier sleep routine in the future.
Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)
At this stage, pre-schoolers will generally get around 11-13 hours’ sleep a night with most not napping after the age of 5 years of age. Pre-schoolers often develop their imagination at this age and this can sometimes have a knock on effect on sleep as they are disrupted by nightmares through the night. This can possibly lead to anxiety about sleep and can affect their quality of sleep. The association of sleep with anxiety can be damaging to a child’s health as it can lead to a lack of sleep and the body doesn’t have time to recharge, which can possibly lead to a weaker immune system. Therefore by ensuring their sleeping environment is relaxing and stress free, a child will less likely associate anxiety with sleep and their health should be better. A better sleep routine can also prevent future problems with sleep and ensure their cognitive and behavioural development isn’t affected, as well as their physical health.
School children (6-13 years)
Generally, school children will need approximately 9-11 hours of sleep a day. At this stage children become more open to outside factors such as TV, media and internet. This can have a massive effect on a child’s sleeping pattern, especially if they are allowed to use these more regularly, particularly before bed time. Studies have shown that children who watch TV before bed often struggle to sleep and have bad sleeping patterns which can often lead to them not getting the required amount of sleep they need.
What are the effects of sleep deprivation?
If a child is sleep deprived then generally their behaviours will change from the norm. They can often become irritable, moody and more prone to tantrums. A child who doesn’t have enough sleep will generally be less happy than a child who gets enough sleep. Studies have found that children are more prone to suffer from anxiety or depression or ADHD if they don’t get the required amount of sleep. Some say that childhood is the foundation for a person’s personality and how they will act as an adult. Therefore if a child acts irritable and struggles to be positive due to lack of sleep, they may continue to do so in the future, affecting their social relationships in the long term.
Sleep deprivation can also affect a child’s development significantly. From the time you are born to adulthood you are constantly learning and absorbing skills and information at a rapid rate. The amount we learn at this stage, especially before the age of ten is phenomenal and consequently it is vital that children have good sleep foundations so they can learn effectively. Sleep studies show that the brain needs a certain amount of sleep to learn tasks that you have completed through the day and to consolidate memories. This means that the ability for children to learn effectively can be determined by the quality of sleep that they acquire. Studies on children and sleep have found links between poor grades at school and sleep deprivation, due to a lack of concentration. Taking this into consideration it is vital to ensure a child gets enough sleep as possible to make sure they are equipped for the day, when they are constantly learning.
Lack of sleep can also lead to health problems in children. Sleep allows the body to recharge from the activities of the day. Children are constantly active, either it be physical or mentally, and is one of the main reasons why children need more sleep than adults because they are learning new things all the time. Sleep studies have shown that lack of sleep can lead to a low immune system, which can be highly dangerous to children as they are at higher risk of illness and disease.
Diabetes is thought to be caused by lack of sleep, as studies have found that the way in which the body processes glucose is altered. This is a lifelong condition that increases blood sugar levels and can often lead to other illnesses such as kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and visual impairment and obesity or weight loss.
Weight gain or loss can be an effect of diabetes, but lack of sleep also. Studies have found that if you have less sleep, then you are more likely to be obese. This is due to a lack of leptin (a chemical that makes you feel full) and an increase in ghrelin (a hunger stimulating hormone). It could also be because the lack of energy that we feel with less sleep. The body hasn’t had time to recharge and therefore, we may feel the need to eat more food to give us energy and exercise is often reduced as energy levels are low. Consequently, sleep for a child is vital to their health and should be monitored as well as behavioural and learning development.
So, what do you need to look out for?
If you have a child then it is important to monitor their behaviour, physical health as well as take note of their sleeping patterns to determine whether they are sleep deprived. Behavioural signs to take note of are, irritable moods, being quieter than usual or acting up, or anger for no apparent reason. Children are extremely changeable, therefore signs such as this may not seem unusual, however it is important to take note of the behaviours and try to decipher whether it is hormonal or due to sleep deprivation.
Physical signs may help you determine whether a child is sleep deprived. Signs such as excessive yawning, lack of energy and catching more colds or bugs than usual could be due to lack of sleep. The immune system can be significantly affected by lack of sleep and affect our health. When we sleep our bodies recharge and our immune system is strong, whereas when we don’t get the right amount of sleep, our immune systems can become weaker and unable to ward of disease and illness. This can be potentially dangerous to children as they are at much larger risk as their immune systems are constantly fighting off new bacteria. Consequently if you find your child is becoming ill frequently it may be advised to contact your GP and monitor whether they are getting enough sleep.
How to prevent sleep deprivation?
There are several ways to make sure a child doesn’t become sleep deprived, by ensuring their sleeping environment and routine are controlled. A sleep routine is vitally important to both adults and children and is often a determining factor whether someone sleeps well or not. Making sure a child has a routine bedtime will help them relax before they go to sleep, aiding the sleep process ensuring they sleep more deeply.
Common ways to relax a child before bed is removing any external distractions such as TV, internet and mobile devices that might keep the brain too alert. Before you sleep the mind should naturally wind down. However, if a child doesn’t have a peaceful atmosphere or a set routine then they can often become irritable or too alert to fall to sleep. Studies have found that families that don’t have set routines often suffer from sleep deprivation and this can lead to behavioural or learning difficulties.
Another way to improve a child’s sleep environment is making sure they have comfort in their sleeping environment. Buying a good quality mattress and bed covers that are comfortable can help aid in sleep. Furthermore if your child has allergies then buying hypoallergenic sheets may prevent them waking up through the night due to sneezing or itching. Furthermore, making sure the room is cool and free from light helps promote sleep as the body clock naturally winds down for sleep when it is dark.
Sleep is incredibly important to children to ensure they are alert and recharged to learn and develop emotionally, cognitively and physically. It has been suggested by sleep studies that children often have behavioural problems, are less active and have more learning difficulties than children that are not sleep deprived. Consequently, it is important to monitor a child’s sleeping environment and ensure they have a nightly routine to improve their quality of sleep.