By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC
Studies are beginning to show that sleep deprivation causes more health problems than anyone had previously realized. Sleep restores your body’s natural rhythms, and without it, you become physically, mentally and psychologically out of balance. This is true of adults, but it is even truer of children. It is imperative that children get enough sleep at night for their health, growth and well-being.
The Physical Effects Of Sleep
During sleep, the body recharges and renews its energy and heals illness. In fact, it is when our bodies are most busy. It provides much–needed rest to every part so that there will be more energy tomorrow. This is especially important for children, who expend more energy than the average adult on a typical day.
For children, sleep is critical to proper growth of the body. Studies show that, while sleeping, the body sends out growth hormones that instruct the muscles and bones to grow. Amino acids such as glutamine are released into the blood, and these are instrumental in gaining height. Research shows that this happens during the deepest parts of sleep.
Sleep is also important for the immune system’s proper functioning. During sleep, the body’s immune system begins working overtime. It does a kind of preventative maintenance, sending immune-system molecules throughout the blood in higher numbers. These are natural molecules that fight disease (1). You are also preventing disease by getting a proper night of sleep.
There are times when I can see my children may start to sneeze and get run down like they are on the verge of catching a cold. It is times like these that it is imperative they get a good night of sleep. Many times my children never develop an illness but instead will sleep 12-13 hours (which they never usually sleep that much!) and wake up fully refreshed. I know they may have picked up some virus but never manifested the symptoms, instead fighting it off in their sleep.
Mental And Psychological Effects
Good sleep helps to balance moods and improve long term memory, which helps them excel in their studies at school. In fact, concentration problems are usually caused by lack of sleep.
Sleep has a few unique psychological benefits as well. Dreaming is how the mind processes the things that happened during the day. It helps to promote psychological well–being and reduces stress levels during waking life.
As busy moms, I know many of you put sleep on the backburner. We put the kids to sleep and finally start “our day” finishing x, y, and z. We stay up until the wee hours of the morning trying to catch up. I remember seeing an excerpt on the ABC news one day that stated that women who sleep fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night have a 40 percent increase in breast cancer. This stopped me in my tracks! They did not state 4 percent or 14 percent but 40 percent? That was a huge percentage. I have never forgotten that and have made it a point to just stop my work and go to sleep and continue the next day. I want to be a healthy mom for my kids so I could keep up with them, enjoy them, and have all the energy I need. I also know of many moms who go to bed late and wake up early to exercise before the household wakes up. While exercising early and first thing is ideal, if you cut sleep to exercise you are just negating your exercise’s effects. Of course, if you are getting to bed early, to get up early, that’s great and very good for your health, but skimping on sleep negates your workout’s anticancer protective effects. Insufficient sleep causes metabolic and hormonal imbalances linked to cancer. Losing one night’s sleep is like comparing your mental performance to being legally drunk. Notice how you feel when you get six hours of sleep instead of eight. Can you imagine how your children feel? Even mild sleep deprivation causes a condition of low –grade inflammation which basically sets the body for long term auto-immune problems, cardiovascular problems, strokes and decreased longevity.
How Much Sleep Should Kids Get?
Every child’s sleeping habits are different. However, since a child’s sleeping habits can affect everyone in the household, it is a good idea to regulate sleeping habits through bedtimes and rules.
Newborn babies sleep 16-19 hours a day, waking up every 3-4 hours to eat and then go back to sleep. Some babies sleep more than others. Some babies also sleep more easily than others. As long as your newborn is healthy and growing the way they should be, they’re getting plenty of sleep. If your newborn is losing weight or not getting bigger, you should talk to your doctor. Sometimes they must be awoken for feeding.
As kids grow through their first year, their sleeping decreases. By three months, most children sleep 15 hours a day with a few naps and up to the first year it may change to around 12-14. Most children at this age take a long nap during the day and sleep through the night.
Children at this age are still not aware that night is sleeping time and day is the time to be awake, so you may have to help them maintain a steady sleep schedule. Show them that nothing much happens at night by keeping things quiet. They’ll often wake up at night, sometimes for feeding. If you must feed them or change diapers, do it quickly and quietly without turning on lights.
Toddlers sleep 10-12 hours a day and usually still take a 1½ to 2 hour nap and understand that night time is sleeping time. Still, it helps to have a going-to-bed routine for them that includes lowering lights, getting into pajamas, brushing teeth and so forth. An evening activity such as reading a book can help with this.
Preschoolers (3-5) sleep between 11-12 hours a night. If they are not getting this, then a small nap is usually needed in the day.
Elementary school kids sleep around 10-11 hours a night. A good way to regulate their sleeping habits is to decide what time they need to wake up to get ready for school, and then setting their bedtime 10-11 hours ahead. I don’t like waking up a sleeping child and feel that children should get up naturally when their bodies tell them to. Again, a pre-sleep routine helps them get ready for bed and gives them clear expectations saying that it’s time to go to sleep.
If your child is not sleeping well, here are a few things that you can do to help:
– Make sure that they’re getting enough exercise, especially in natural sunlight. (This helps to set their biological clocks)
– Cut out sugar and caffeine. (Yes, you would be surprised how many children take caffeinated drinks).
– Make it dark before they go to bed. Mayo Clinic studies show that the body’s rhythms are in sync with light and dark. Many young children, under five, tend to wake up earlier than normal and see the light peeking out from the window around 6 a.m. I used black out blinds when my children were young. I found that this was the trick to getting them to sleep longer, hence we had fewer illnesses.
– If your child has nightmares, sit with them and give them soothing physical comfort such as rubbing their back. Don’t talk or ask about the dream they had at night; tell them that you’re there and everything will be alright.
– If it’s hard for them to wake up in the morning, this is probably a sign that something is wrong with the bedtime routine and that it should be changed. Usually make bedtime earlier.
-I also used these “white noise” makers by Marpac. Even though some studies show that it is better to be able to sleep with noise, as they will be able to sleep through anything, I found that our tiptoeing or the sound of construction trucks outside would wake them up when they weren’t ready. These white noise makers were truly a gift and they definitely got more sleep because of these. We also took them on vacation as they are very portable. The sound of slamming hotel room doors in the hallways were a big distraction and these noise makers really helped.
A big part of preventing sickness in our house was due to good sleeping habits. My children have always slept well. To this day, my 10 and 12 year old sleep 10.5 hours each night. They are sharp, alert and rarely get ill. I also rarely let my children sleep in their strollers or cars out and about when they were young. Sure, there were times, as you have to live, but most days we always came home for our naps, to have uninterrupted nap time, which ensures excellent night time sleep.
Proper sleep is extremely important for kids. It not only reduces stress and improves concentration, but also helps their bodies grow. Make sure that your children are getting the sleep they need, and they’ll be happy, healthy and they will prevent diseases (Cancer, hormonal problems, growth failure, psychological problems, immunity). Sleep is not negotiable.
1. Pattison, Kermit, “Sleep Deficit: The Hidden Debt That’s Hurting Us All,” November 2008, Experience Life – http://www.experiencelifemag.com/issues/november-2008/wellness/sleep-deficit-the-hidden-debt-thats-hurting-us-all.php
2. Crisp, Dr. Stuart, “How much sleep do children need?” NetDoctor – http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/health_advice/facts/childrensleep.htm
3. “How Much Sleep Do Children Need?” MyChildHealth.net – http://www.mychildhealth.net/how-much-sleep-do-children-need.html
4. Lipman, Dr. Frank, “Why You Need It and How To Get More of It,” Goop Newsletter – http://goop.com/newsletter/72/en/