How Important Is Sleep To Children?
Kids do get sleep. In fact, babies sleep almost all the time. While adults need the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a day, babies need 2/3 of the day sleeping.
As children grow older, the amount of sleep they need varies:
- toddlers: 11 to 14 hours
- preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
- school-aged children: 9 to 12 hours
- teens: 8 to 10 hours
Children need to have good quality and quantity of sleep simply because they are growing. And sleep helps support their growth stage. A lot of things can happen during the growth stage. They will need all the help they can get for optimum growth. And sleep is one of them.
Deep sleep stimulates growth, especially in babies.
“Growth hormone is primarily secreted during deep sleep,” says Judith Owens, M.D., director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., and a Parents advisor. Mother Nature seems to have protected babies by making sure they spend about 50 percent of their time in this deep sleep, considered to be essential for adequate growth. Italian researchers, studying children with deficient levels of growth hormone, have found that they sleep less deeply than average children do.
Even at a young stage, sleep protects children from cardiovascular harm due to cholesterol and stress hormones.
“Children with sleep disorders have excessive brain arousal during sleep, which can trigger the fight-or-flight response hundreds of times each night,” says Jeffrey Durmer, M.D., Ph.D., a sleep specialist and researcher in Atlanta. “Their blood glucose and cortisol remain elevated at night. Both are linked to higher levels of diabetes, obesity, and even heart disease.”
Children, including babies, can actually go overboard with food as well, especially if parents mistook their babies’ cry as hunger. But getting enough sleep can counter this.
That’s key, because the sleep-weight connection seems to snowball. When we’ve eaten enough to be satisfied, our fat cells create the hormone leptin, which signals us to stop eating. Sleep deprivation may impact this hormone, so kids keep right on eating. “Over time, kids who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be obese,” says Dorit Koren, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist and sleep researcher at the University of Chicago.
Worn-out kids also eat differently than those who are well rested. “Research has shown that children, like adults, crave higher-fat or higher-carb foods when they’re tired,” Dr. Koren says. “Tired children also tend to be more sedentary, so they burn fewer calories.”
Another great thing about sleep is that it can combat pathogenic microorganisms. The body produces cytokines that are responsible for fighting germs. They are also the ones that make us feel drowsy whenever we are sick, telling us that we need to rest.
During sleep, children (and adults) also produce proteins known as cytokines, which the body relies on to fight infection, illness, and stress. (Besides battling illness, they also make us sleepy, which explains why having the flu or a cold feels so exhausting. It forces us to rest, which further aids the body’s ability to heal.) Too little sleep appears to impact the number of cytokines on hand. And it’s been found that adults who sleep fewer than seven hours per night are almost three times more likely to develop a cold when exposed to that virus than those who sleep eight or more hours. While there’s little data on young children, studies of teens have found that reported bouts of illness declined with longer nightly sleep.
If there is anything that kids run out of, it would be their attention. More than patience, children easily lose attention.
…tired kids can be impulsive and distracted even though they don’t have ADHD.
For school-age kids, research has shown that adding as little as 27 minutes of extra sleep per night makes it easier for them to manage their moods and impulses so they can focus on schoolwork. Kids with ADHD also seem to be more vulnerable to the effects of too little sleep.
Like healthy and nutritious foods, children need good sleep as well. Good sleep especially deep sleep helps support their growth, learning, and overall health.
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