What do koalas and human infants have in common? They all sleep up to 17 hours per day. As children grow older they don’t need quite as much sleep as Australia’s favorite animal, but it still plays a critical role in their development.
The Importance of Children Catching Those Zs
It’s true that both children and adults need to get enough sleep or else it can have a negative ripple effect on their health, but for children the need is even more pronounced. “Infants, children and teens need more sleep because of their increased mental and physical growth,” says Dr. Tiffany Hill, UT Health pediatrician. “These changes occur up to age 25.” While the number of hours in bed is important, so is the type of sleep that children get.
Disrupted or light sleep can negate the benefits a child should be getting by sleeping. Children should be getting a large amount of deep sleep so they can allow their bodies to develop properly. “During NREM the brain waves slow and the heart and muscles repair themselves. It is during deep sleep (NREM) that growth hormone is produced, which is needed to service bone and muscle,” explains Dr. Hill. “During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep we dream. REM sleep is thought to play a role in learning and memory. In this type of sleep protein synthesis is at its peak.”
Not getting enough quality sleep doesn’t just mean that a child will be tired, missing out on hours of sleep can have more serious, long-term side effects as well. “Sleeplessness can undermine your whole body,” says Dr. Hill. “Children who sleep less are at higher risk of obesity, depression, diabetes, poor school performance, ADHD, poor immune function and poor injury recovery.” The key to avoiding these problems is to establish a consistent sleep routine and stick to it because issues can build upon each other quickly if not fixed.
By the Numbers
As mentioned above, infants have the same demanding sleep requirements as some of the laziest of animals, but recommendations change as children get older. “Newborns require the most sleep at between 14 to 17 hours, infants and toddlers between 11 to 15 hours, preschoolers 8 to 10 hours and school age children through young adults (18 to 25 years) need 7 to 9 hours. So yes, the 17-year high school senior needs the same bedtime as the 8-year-old third grader,” says Dr. Hill.
Setting Up Sleeping Success
You know that your children need sleep, but they tend not to agree and often resist bedtime. Even though it can be a struggle, it’s crucial to be consistent when it comes to bedtime. “It is important to keep bedtime a routine so it’s predictable for the children,” says Dr. Hill. “Things like illness or traveling can throw off the routine, so it’s important to get back on a schedule as soon as possible.” Even if a child cries when being put to bed or doesn’t seem tired, they should still stick to the routine.
Another key feature in the routine is making sure the time leading up to bedtime will help them get a good night’s rest. Avoid caffeine, high energy activities and TV an hour before bedtime. “Parents need to be aware of the effects of blue light and sleep problems,” says Dr. Hill. “Children need to turn off all electronics one hour prior to bedtime. A tablet delays the sleep cycle by 96 minutes and a smartphone by 67 minutes. This can be especially difficult for teenagers.”
You should start good bedtime habits young and, if your child is suffering from sleep problems, it should be fixed as soon as possible. Your pediatrician is a great resource for any questions you may have about your child’s sleep requirements.
Some children eagerly pick out their pajamas and jump into bed while others throw a fit at the mention of bedtime, but the one thing these kids have in common is that they all very much need sleep. Take time to develop a bedtime routine to follow with your children so their bodies can properly develop and grow. With the right amount of sleep your kids will be able to have many happy, healthy days!
To find a pediatrician and set up an appointment, call 903-531-8890.
Dr. Hill is also welcoming new patients. For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hill, call 903-590-5000.