The Importance of Sleep to Children's Development
Date Posted:3 January 2020
Young children need varying hours of sleep each night — ranging from 10 – 18 hours per night — with the required amount decreasing as the child grows older. Another thing to consider is that individual needs will also affect how much sleep your child will need.
Overall, it is recommended that young children (0 – 5 years) sleep for approximately 50% of the day.1 This is because a huge part of their physical and cognitive development takes place during sleep.
There are two states of sleep that we go through each night:
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (Quiet sleep): This state of sleep affects physical development. During deep states of quiet sleep, blood supply to the muscles increases. Tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored, and essential hormones needed for growth and development are released.2
Rapid Eye Movement (Active sleep): Active sleep is responsible for cognitive development. Typically, in this state our brains are active, and dreaming occurs. During this cycle, our brains sort through and store memories and information gained that day. This is especially important for young children as they learn a lot in their early years. The last stages of active sleep will help prepare your child for the next day.3
It is crucial that your child gets enough sleep to allow their body and brain to rest and develop. Sleep deprivation can cause a lot of problems that will affect behaviour, development, and health; it will also have a long-term impact on your child’s mental and physical health.
But don’t worry! There are tips and tricks that can help you get your child to bed in time for them to get the required amount of sleep.
The effects of sleep deprivation
1. Developmental Issues
How your child grows and develops in their early childhood will have a lasting impact on the rest of their life. This is the stage where there is significant physical and mental development, and sleep plays a very important role in that.
The highest levels of growth hormone release happens during deep sleep. Lack of sleep will result in shorter sleep cycles, and will impede on your child’s physical growth.
By the time your little one starts school, their motor skills will mostly be developed. However, without enough sleep, their motor skills will be impaired, causing them to be more prone to accidents and injuries. With inadequate sleep, toddlers are more likely to fall over often which will hinder the development of their gross motor skills. Likewise, pre-schoolers suffering from lack of sleep are more likely to get injured while playing at playgrounds as they will not have full control over their gross motor functions.4
Children learn a lot daily, and during active sleep is the time when new information is processed. This means that your child needs sufficient sleep to go through a few sleep cycles for them to retain what they have learned that day. The quality and quantity of sleep will affect how much your child is learning and retaining.
Newborns spend a lot of their sleep time in the active sleep stage of brain development. This is when they start learning facial recognition and form their first social interaction. Any disruption in their sleep at this stage could affect their social bonds later in life.
Toddlers learning about their independence will also speed up their acquisition of motor, cognitive, and social skills. The development of these skills will have a lifelong impact on your child’s mental and physical health. It is essential that their brain is given time to process all the skills that they are learning daily.
Sleep deprivation in school children can also lead to other neurological disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).1
2. Behavioural Problems
Sleep deprivation and behavioural problems have always been correlated. It is often observed both in children and adults that the lack of sleep can cause someone to become irritable, moody, and anxious. Young children are also more prone to tantrums, and have an increased risk of suffering from anxiety or ADHD.
The development of your child’s emotional intelligence will also be affected if they do not get a good night’s sleep. They will lack the self-control to regulate their emotions, and will likely be aggressive when confronted. They are more likely to lash out, more likely to show violent behaviour, and more likely to ‘melt down’.5
3. Health Problems
Your child’s body and mind need time to repair after a full day of activities. Without enough rest for their body to recuperate, your child’s immunity will likely be diminished. The level of immune-boosting proteins released during sleep will be significantly lowered, and they will be more susceptible to illness and disease.
Inadequate sleep could increase your child’s risk of developing diabetes and obesity. Lack of sleep changes the levels of hormones released — mainly the ones that regulate hunger and appetite. You will find your child getting hungry more often, eating a lot more than usual, and craving for foods high in carbohydrates to make up for the lack of energy.
Without sufficient sleep, the body’s ability to regulate sugar and insulin levels will be affected which can lead to childhood obesity or type-2 diabetes.4
Don’t fret if your child isn’t going to bed on time! Here are 3 tips you can follow to ensure that your little one gets enough rest:
1. Have a Regular Sleep Routine
Babies start having regular sleep hours after a few months. It is good to start a bedtime routine with your child to help them transition from daytime play to night-time rest. It is important to include relaxing downtime between dinner and bed to help calm them and prepare them for bed. Make sure that they go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Having a consistent bedtime routine will help your child develop a regular circadian sleep rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, allowing them to fall asleep easily and giving them the rest they need to get through the next day.2
2. Remove Any External Distractions
Remove all stimulating distractions to ensure a quiet and relaxing environment. One way to do this is to restrict your child’s access to TVs, tablets, and phones at least an hour before bedtime. This is important to note for school-aged children as their interest in TV and social media increases. Media consumption right before bed has been linked to low quality of sleep, and can increase the risk of anxiety and depression — particularly for older children.2
3. Ensure a Conducive Sleep Environment
Ensure that your child’s bedroom is comfortable to sleep in. Minimising environmental stimuli by regulating the temperature of the room and sleeping on a proper mattress in a dark and quiet room will improve their sleep quality. The dark room will help to develop their circadian rhythm as it is regulated by light and dark signals. This will help to regulate your kid’s sleep pattern and hours; making sure that they get good quality sleep and the appropriate amount of rest.2
Sleep deprivation in children can affect their physical, cognitive, and emotional development. It is important that you are aware of your child’s sleep patterns and note any sleep problems that they might have.
By following these 3 tips, your little one is guaranteed to get a good night’s rest and improve their quality of sleep.
- Sealy, “The Importance of Sleep to Child Development,” Sealy Blog. 15th September, 2015. (Link)
- National Sleep Foundation, “Children and Sleep,” Sleep Topics. (Link)
- Raising Children, “Sleep and learning,” 27th July, 2018. (Link)
- Patti Teel, “If Your Child Has Problems, It May Due to Lack of Sleep,” PsychCentral. 8th October, 2018. (Link)
- Perri Klass, “Which Came First? The Behavior Problems, or the Poor Sleep?”, The New York Times. 16th October, 2016. (Link)