Sleep is vital for development

Many people underestimate the value of sleep and while some adults prioritise time to catch up on lost sleep when feeling tired, and others unfortunately suffer from sleep deprivation but have no choice but to soldier on, both types of parents can often misjudge the hours of sleep their children need.

The average child has a busy day; school, taking care of pets, running around with friends, going to sports practice or other activities, and doing homework and study. By the end of the day, their body needs a break; a proportional one. Sleep allows the body to rest and prepare for the next day and without sufficient amounts, detrimental physical and social effects can occur.

Although everyone is different, on average, babies need 16 hours of sleep per day, Children nine to 16 hours, teenagers nine hours, adults seven to eight hours, (but some may need as few as five or as many as 10) while older adults may sleep for shorter periods of time, more often. If your child is getting up for school by 07:00h, then teens should be asleep by 22:00h and younger children much earlier. In reality, that means going up to bed long before that time because showering, brushing teeth, packing school bags and general time wasting would eat into the sleep hour quota.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. Sleep helps your brain work properly by forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Whether Maths, how to play the piano, perfecting a sporting technique, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance learning and problem-solving skills. It also helps with attention span, decisions- making, and creativity.

During sleep, the body is working to support healthy physical growth and development too, especially deep sleep, which triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues; playing an important role in puberty and fertility. The immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. This vital system defends the body against foreign or harmful substances which can be undermined by ongoing sleep deficiency causing changes to immune system response that could result in the systems inability to fight common infections.

How you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping. The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant when lack of concentration causes and accident, or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise the risk of some chronic health problems. Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. In more severe cases, it has also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviour.

Children and teens that are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, which can affect their grades and leave them feeling stressed.

A child who is sleep deprived can appear to be functioning and keeping up with a busy schedule but it is extremely improbable they will perform to their potential. They are likely to go through the motions and feel unmotivated. It can often be perplexing for a parent who cannot understand the lack of enthusiasm or communication from a tired child. Over time this behaviour can become the norm and seem part of a child’s personality but it is often down to long-term lack of adequate sleep. The results can be a very withdrawn child or eventually a seemingly passive child can lash out when it becomes too much.

As a parent, your input to your child’s sleep pattern is paramount. It may be useful to keep either a mental record or even a diary of how much sleep your child is getting. Remember to differentiate between time in bed and sleep; in most cases, there is a huge difference. Sleep is as important as a healthy diet and safe environment for our children’s wellbeing and if we fail to acknowledge and appreciate its importance, long-term damage can be done. Do not neglect this part of your responsibility.

It’s worth a look at your own habits too!

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