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The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep for Children

As adults, most of us are grateful for whatever amount of sleep we can get between chores and work. Unfortunately, children are hardly ever aware of how good a full night’s sleep can feel – most of them want to stay up for as long as they can. The situation is even harder to manage in teenagers, who no longer want to be constrained by fixed bedtimes and night-time curfews. However, the importance of sleep cannot be overstated. If you’re the parent or caretaker of a child or teenager, it is extremely important to ensure that they understand the need and importance of sleeping right.

What makes sleep so important?

Imagine if you tried to run your laptop throughout the day, without charging. Once its internal charge has been consumed, it would die. Sleep serves the same function in human beings: it recharges us. But that’s not all. When we sleep, our brain consolidates information and streamlines data, forming new pathways to help us prepare for our time awake.

There are four major ways in which sleep enables children to live healthier and more productive lives:

  • It has a direct effect on physical health: According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institut, sleep deficiency increases the risk of heart disease, kidney problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. Lack of sleep also creates hormone imbalances in the body, resulting in over-eating and thereby increasing the likelihood of weight problems.
  • It results in growth and development: Watching your child grow from a little toddler to a child, then teenage, then to an adult is a beautiful process – and growth hormones are behind a considerable part of this physical growth and mental development. Research shows that most of the human growth hormone is manufactured during deep sleep; a lack of sufficient sleep slows down growth and development in children.
  • It improves cognitive function: Whether your child is beginning algebra or learning how to play a sport, he or she is at that stage of life when cognitive function is vital to becoming a productive, enabled individual. Sufficient sleep helps children concentrate, multi-task and make focused decisions. Meanwhile, not getting enough sleep impairs their cognitive abilities, reduces effective decision-making, and results in memory loss. The loss of cognitive function can take on a wide range of forms, from a child falling asleep in class to a teenager losing control of a car when sleep-deprived. Whether the immediate consequences are mild or severe, in the long-run, consistently not getting enough sleep will harm your child’s productivity, creativity, energy and safety.
  • It promotes mental and emotional well-being: After an exhausting day, most of us just want to hit our beds and have a long, long sleep. Why is this? During the third and fourth stages of sleep – deep sleep – blood flow to muscles increases, resulting in tissue repair and restoration. When we say that sleep drives away exhaustion, it literally does so by healing the damaged and worn-out parts of our bodies and minds. Children who get enough sleep wake up happier, more energized and more positive. On the other hand, consistent sleep deficiency has been linked to anger management issues, mood swings, lack of motivation and depression.

How much sleep should my child get each night?

If you are the parent or caretaker of a child or teenager, one important question might be what amount of sleep your child should get each day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend at least 10 hours of sleep for school-aged children, and 9-10 hours each day for teens. Overall, every child or teen should get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep at night. Remember, not all sleep is equivalent: according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the universities of Minnesota and Montreal, children who get most of their sleep at night – as opposed to daytime naps – do better in terms of executive function, impulse control and working memory. So even if your child is getting 8-10 hours of sleep, if most of them occur during the day including naps, now is the time to fix their sleeping patterns and help them be the healthiest, most energetic versions of themselves.