You tuck them in. You read them stories. You sing them lullabies. Children rely on parents for many of their sleep needs - some you may not be even aware of. To help you understand why sleep is so important to your child and how you can help him or her sleep better, we've assembled a variety of information that you can review on your own, or together with your young one.
Sleep is one of the most important requirements in early childhood development. Which is why it is important to understand your child's sleep and how you can help him or her develop good sleep habits.
Understanding your child's sleep habits
By the age of two, most children have spent more time asleep than awake, and, overall, a child will spend 40 percent of his or her childhood asleep. Sleep is especially important for children as it directly impacts mental and physical development.
Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, are regulated by light and dark, and these rhythms take time to develop, resulting in the irregular sleep schedules of newborns. The rhythms begin to develop at about 6 weeks, and by 3 to 6 months most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle.
Babies spend 50 percent of their time in each of these states, and the sleep cycle is about 50 minutes. At about 6 months of age, REM sleep comprises about 30 percent of sleep. By the time children reach preschool age, the sleep cycle is about every 90 minutes.
For newborns, sleep during the early months occurs around the clock, and the sleep-wake cycle interacts with the need to be fed, changed and nurtured. Newborns sleep a total of 10.5 to 18 hours a day on an irregular schedule with periods of 1 to 3 hours spent awake. The sleep period may last a few minutes to several hours.
By 6 months of age, night time feedings are usually not necessary, and many infants sleep through the night; 70-80 percent will do so by 9 months of age. Infants typically sleep 9-12 hours during the night and take 30-minute to 2-hour naps, one to four times a day - fewer as they reach age one.
When infants are put to bed drowsy but not asleep, they are more likely to become "self-soothers," which enables them to fall asleep independently at bedtime and put themselves back to sleep during the night. Those who have become accustomed to parental assistance at bedtime often become "signalers" and cry for their parents to help them return to sleep during the night.
School-age children, ages 5 to 12, require 10-11 hours of sleep. During this age, most children are also experiencing increasing demand on their time from school, in the form of homework, sports and other extracurricular and social activities. They also become more interested in TV shows, using computers, the media and Internet as well as caffeinated products.
This all can add up to difficulties falling asleep, nightmares and disruptions to their sleep. For example, watching TV close to the bedtime hour has been associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep and sleeping fewer hours.
Kids who spend more time in extracurricular activities at the expense of sleep time simply do not perform as they should. It should be clear that lack of sleep compromises many of the skills that make for academic success - attention, organization, creative thinking, and efficiency. It also erodes the motivation that kids have to do well in the first place.
Furthermore, without some wind-down time in the evening, the expectation that kids can easily go from full-throttle, 100km-an-hour-active to all-of-a-sudden-fast-asleep is not only unrealistic but may contribute to some serious difficulties in their ability to fall asleep.
Make compromises when it comes to your child's extracurricular activities instead of when it comes to sleep. There are no easy choices. Ask yourself if you might be giving a subconscious but nonetheless crystal-clear message to your child that (a) getting enough sleep is optional, (b) you would be willing to sacrifice sleep for the possibility of long-term academic gains and (c) you don't get a lot of sleep so they don't need to either.
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