Every parent knows the feeling: You’ve spent a long day on the job, taken the kids to their extracurricular activities, put dinner on the table, done two loads of laundry, and now it’s time to relax. You can’t wait until the kiddos are snug in their beds so you can get some well-deserved alone time. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to get the kids to bed as early as possible, you’re doing the right thing. Recent research shows that children need adequate, restful sleep for many reasons, including avoiding illness, succeeding in school, and fighting obesity.
Sleep Deprivation in Children
Kids can fall into the sleep deprivation danger zone very quickly. According to a recent study from Dalhousie University Nova Scotia, its negative effects on children aged 6-10 are apparent after just four nights of one hour less than the recommended sleep time for their age. Generally, these sleep deficits occur during long holiday weekends, spring break, and summer vacation. However, this can also happen when electronics are allowed in your children’s bedrooms or you allow them to stay up and watch television with you.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Here is the long list of the effects of sleep deprivation on children:
- Attention problems
- Bullying and aggressive behavior
- Mood swings
- Impaired higher cognitive functions, such as verbal creativity and abstract thinking
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes and subsequent obesity
- Increased risk of depression
- Hypertension in adolescents
- Frequent colds and infections
- Lack of coordination
- Memory problems
These risks go far beyond the usual crankiness and lethargy you normally see in a child who hasn’t gotten enough sleep the night before and enter into serious health and behavior issues. You be wondering, of course, how much sleep your child needs. Well, now that we’ve determined how important it is for children to get adequate sleep, let’s look at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommendations by age group:
- Infants 4-12 months: 12-16 hours, including naps
- Children 1-2 years: 11-14 hours, including naps
- Children 3-5 years: 10-13 hours, including naps
- Children 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
- Teenagers 13-18: 8-10 hours
Sleep and Learning in Children
Quality sleep plays an especially important role for children’s ability to learn because they constantly receive new information and are tested on their retention of the material. Their memory needs to be good and their focus sharp in order to succeed. Better sleep can help. In fact, the benefits of sufficient restful sleep are backed by science. While we sleep, our brains solidify our memories of what we learned that day, and recent research shows that this process is more prominent and effective in children than in adults.
Sleep and Immunity in Children
As your child sleeps, their immune system is busy releasing cytokines, proteins that promote sleep. These cytokines increase when they have any inflammation or an infection, or when they are under stress. If your child is sleep-deprived, there is a decrease in the production of protective cytokines, as well as a decrease in infection-fighting cells and antibodies.
Sleep and Growth in Children
As parents, sometimes it seems as if our children grow overnight, and we’re actually not off the mark. Growth hormone is a hormone that is primarily secreted when children are in their deep sleep phase. Luckily, natural instincts within your child’s body ensure that they spend half their time asleep in this growth-promoting phase. Furthermore, children who have deficient levels of growth hormone tend to sleep less deeply than those with adequate levels.
The takeaway? Don’t feel guilty about sending your kids off to bed to get your alone time. You’re actually doing them a favor, and you have the research to back you up.
Article Written by Lisa Smalls
All comments are are author’s personal opinion