Every human being needs some type of sleep. In fact, every creature on the Earth needs some type of sleep. We all function on different levels.
For some people, four or five hours is enough. They feel refreshed and ready to take on another day. Some people need six to eight hours of sleep to get that same feeling. There is nothing bad about needing more or less sleep, as long as you get enough for your body to repair and rest.
When it comes to children, it seems like they can sleep all day. You just have to look at babies to know that sleep is essential to their development. Babies can sleep for 16-18 hours a day when they’re first born. As they get older, they sleep less, but they will need rest more frequently. They’ll have naps during the day to be able to handle the rest of whatever life throws at them.
But why is this sleep so important? Just what is it about growing children that requires extra sleep throughout the day? Here’s a look at everything you need to know about sleep and child development.
Sleep Is a Requirement for a Healthy Brain
The brain will constantly run. In fact, it runs while you’re sleeping but not as hard. When you’re awake, it must deal with the everyday processes. It keeps your whole body alive and function, while helping you remember where you’re going, move your muscles, and do everything else that is needed on a day to day basis.
For children that mean learning. The brain is helping a child learn how to eat solid food, move muscles to be able to grab, roll over, crawl, and walk. The brain helps babies and young children make decisions and process thoughts and feelings. There is an element of problem-solving throughout the day.
But it’s the sleeping process that helps to cement all this. The brain performs subconsciously to take in all the thoughts and learning experiences. The pathways of memory are created during the sleep.
A lack of sleep in children could mean that they don’t take in everything – they don’t remember all the things they’ve done on a daily basis. Some children struggle to control their emotions, while others act out in naughty ways because their brains need the rest. They take risks, and as they get older, they can have problems with depression and anxiety.
Studies have shown that growing children struggle to communication and get along with others when they are deprived of sleep. They are angry and impulsive, often lacking the controls to prevent them doing something they know is wrong. Babies don’t have as much awareness or impulse control. This development comes later, and it is due to sleep as the brain processes everything.
Sleep Helps Your Child Grow
Some people note that their babies and children grow a few inches overnight. While the amount is disputed, it is a fact that children grow overnight. Sleep encourages the body to develop and the muscles and bones to stretch. The balance of hormones is just right to help lengthen the body.
While asleep, the growth hormone is able to be released. This tends to remain dormant during times of awake. So a child needs extra sleep in the earlier years of life to make sure they grow quickly. As their growth starts to slow down, they don’t need as much sleep on a daily basis. During the teenage years, the hormones are all over the place, and there is a growth spurt, which could lead to more tiredness and the need for more sleep.
Studies have gone on to find out why some babies and children sleep less than the average. This is linked to the growth hormones. Those with a lower amount of this hormone don’t sleep as much or as deeply as the average child.
Sleep is just Mother Nature’s way to make sure that babies are protected and able to develop. Don’t stop your baby from sleeping if you can help it.
The growth hormone isn’t just about height, either. This is the hormone that affects muscle mass and bone density. A child that gets a good amount of sleep on a daily basis will find that they have stronger and leaner bodies. This moves us onto the next reason children need sleep.
Sleep Aids with Weight Loss or Normal Weight Gain
Babies and children don’t necessarily need to lose weight. Your doctor will discuss with you if this is a problem.
However, babies and children need to gain a normal amount of weight for their age. They need to regularly put on the pounds, whether they are growing some muscle for the initial steps of life or gaining fat to keep them warm.
Studies have shown that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be obese. This is the case for both children and adults. One study specifically looked at teenagers, who got one less hour of sleep than average. They were more likely to become obese than their regular sleeping counterparts.
Scientists have found that sleep helps to balance every single hormone in the body. While the growth hormones get a boost, the hormone that makes us feel hungry is subsided. We don’t eat as much when asleep – and not just because our bodies are resting. There isn’t the need to eat. In fact, when you get enough sleep on a night, you don’t feel the need to eat as much throughout the day.
This applies to babies and growing children too. When they get a good amount of sleep, they don’t feel the need to eat constantly throughout the day. They don’t store excess calories, so they don’t gain too much weight. They eat a healthy amount to sustain their bodies and gain some muscle mass.
Of course, the diet factor does require a healthy and balanced diet when awake. You’ll know yourself that eating the wrong foods can still lead to weight problems.
Sleep does help in another area of the diet though. When children get enough sleep, their body is able to react to insulin levels better. Insulin is needed to control the levels of glucose in the blood. Those who don’t get enough sleep have higher blood sugar levels. This is a risk for Type II diabetes. Sleep isn’t a cure, but it helps to regulate the body better.
Better Sleep Helps to Fight Infections
A baby is still developing elements of their bodies when they are born. The immune system continues to develop, even into adult years. While there are some vaccinations out there – I know, a debated subject – there are plenty of illnesses that there is no protection from. Parents hope that their children have the immune system to fight it all off.
Sleep definitely helps with this process. During sleep, children produce cytokines, a type of protein. The body needs this to be able to fight off illnesses and infections. The proteins are produced more during illnesses to help promote sleep and encourage anyone to sleep more to fight off the illness. There is a cycle that Mother Nature has created to ensure our bodies fight off infections as much as possible instead of succumbing to them.
Children who don’t get that much sleep will find that their levels of cytokines are diminished. This means the body isn’t able to fight off infections as well and it can impact adults later in life.
There aren’t so many studies conducted on babies and children, but there are some on teenagers. Teenagers who didn’t get enough sleep on a night had more illnesses, whether serious or just bouts of the common cold.
It shouldn’t be surprising that lack of sleep also brings on exhaustion. The whole body is more open to infection and disease because the body is currently dealing with the exhaustion that is set in.
At the same time, sleep makes a person clumsier. You just have to think about what you’re like when you don’t get enough sleep. You tend to stagger around and bump into walls. For children, this can mean something more serious. Remember that children are more likely to take risks and have mood swings because of their tiredness. Well, this can lead to more chance of injuries, since they take risks but don’t have the balance to follow them through!
The bones are also weaker due to lack of growth hormone getting the chance to work with the body. The body may not have taken in all the nutrients through food, so the bones aren’t getting enough calcium, either. Both of these linked with the clumsiness can lead to bones breaking and other more serious injuries.
Sleep Makes It Easier to Concentrate
As children get older, they start to go to school. They need to be sat in classrooms for hours at a time, depending on the country and school, where they have to concentrate on the letters, numbers, and other subjects they are learning.
There’s no denying that some children have attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD), but there are some children who are misdiagnosed. We don’t quite know how many are misdiagnosed with the problem, but we know that it is common. This is because thelack of sleep and ADHD tend to have some of the same side effects and symptoms.
Lack of sleep means that children find it harder to concentrate. They may fall asleep in class, or they are hyperactive and struggle to just sit still in one place. Giddiness is a symptom of tiredness that a lot of parents of young children notice before children get into the stage of grumpiness and just crashing out wherever they sit.
The body tries to find that last bout of energy. Of course, it’s given off in the wrong way. The brain doesn’t have enough energy to focus on the things that children are taught, and this affects their learning.
We’ve already looked at how sleep helps with the learning. While sleeping, the brain is able to process the things that children have learned. The subconscious works on storing information in the long and short term memory banks. This is the chance for the brain to work through all the new information, people met, and things were done. If the child was unable to pay attention, the brain would only have part of the information. Not all of it can be stored for future use.
The Problems Persist Through Life
If the body doesn’t get enough sleep in the earlier years, the problems gained will persist through life. People are more likely to get less sleep in their adult years, believing that it is just a normal part of their lives. There is this common saying of “you can sleep when you’re dead” because sleep isn’t viewed as an essential part of living.
Growing children need to get plenty of sleep. They learn so much, even when they are just two weeks old. Their brains need to recover after the day and process all the information they’ve gained. This isn’t going to happen while they’re awake.
Studies show just how dangerous lack of sleep is for everyone. For children and teenagers, it could mean the difference between strong and illness-riddled bodies. The immune system doesn’t get the support it needs to fight off illnesses, and the body doesn’t get the hormones to support growth and development.
How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
Make sure your child gets enough sleep for the age. Younger children need more throughout the day than older ones. The sleep does accumulate across a 24 hours period.
For example, newborns will need between 16 and 18 hours of sleep a day. This isn’t going to be in one sitting. Some will sleep through the night for 12 hours without a problem and then need a few one-hour naps throughout the day. Others will have four-hour naps with periods of awake on a regular basis.
As babies reach the three-monthstage, they need around 11-15 hours of sleep daily. Between four months and a year, that time drops to between 9 and 12 hours, and most will sleep through the night and just need a few naps throughout the day.
Toddlers and preschoolers do a lot of running around and growing. They will sleep between 11 and 14 hours a day, usually in one sitting throughout the night. Between the ages of 6 and 13, children need somewhere between 9 and 11 hours of sleep, and usually not with a nap in the day. They may have a nap if they are ill.
The problem for growing children is that there is an increase in demand of their time. They get more homework from schools and want to do more activities with their friends. At the same time, their hormones are starting to shift to get ready for the teenage years.
Teenagers need around 9 hours of sleep, but the majority will only get around 7 hours. Don’t believe that your teenager is lazy on the weekend for sleeping until 10. Chances are their bodies need that sleep because of the demands throughout the week, especially if they do a lot of clubs or have a lot of homework – and of course, they think it’s cool to stay up late and play video games!
Getting the right amount of sleep is essential. The bodies need it for the whole development process. Without sleep, the brain just can’t process everything and help balance out the right hormones in the body. With the right amount of sleep, you will have a well developed, happy, and attentive child, barring any other medical reasons for the opposite to happen.