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Children and
the Importance of Sleep

Establishing a sleep routine is crucial to a child’s health
and well-being.

Human beings are the only creatures on Earth that consciously and deliberately deprive themselves of sleep. Since the advent of the electric light, our sleeping habits have changed and whether our excuse is work or leisure the result is the same – many of us do not get enough sleep. The health implications are numerous and should be of utmost concern to parents of young children, for whom sleep is even more crucial.

What happens when children sleep?

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Children lead incredibly busy lives. They go to school, partake in extra curricular activities, complete homework assignments and navigate complex social structures. They do all of this as their bodies grow and process information about the world around them. It’s no surprise then that sleeping well is so important to them. During sleep, the body is actually very busy. According to the US National Sleep Foundation, tissue growth and repair occurs while we sleep. Blood supply to the muscles increases and energy is also restored. In addition, growth hormones vital to the healthy development of children are released into the body during sleep. Sleeping also helps to regulate the immune system. So many important processes happen while children are sleeping and a lack of good-quality sleep can have serious adverse effects.

Is my child sleep deprived?

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If a child is not getting sufficient sleep they suffer in numerous ways. Parents should look out for the following signs of sleep deprivation.

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Lack of awareness

  • Struggling to process information or remember things

  • Falling asleep during the day

  • Sleeping more at weekends to compensate for a lack of sleep during the week

  • Mood swings and irritability

In addition to the above, sleep deprivation can cause changes in the metabolism that could lead to obesity or heart disease in later life.

What is healthy sleep?

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With a lack of sleep in children causing so many potential problems, parents would be wise to take an active role in their children’s sleep and to monitor their sleep habits for any changes that could be detrimental. A child who is having healthy sleep will likely:

  • Fall asleep within twenty minutes once in bed and settled

  • Sleep through the night most of the time

  • Wake up feeling, refreshed, alert and ready for the day.

How can I ensure my child’s sleep is healthy?

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Both quality and quantity of sleep are important for children. The national US Sleep Foundation recommends the following amount of sleep for children of different age groups:

Newborn: 0-3 months – 14-17 hours per day
Infant: 4-11 months – 12-15 hours per day
Toddler: 1-2 years old – 11-14 hours per day
Preschool: 3-5 years old – 10-13 hours per day
School-age::6-13 years old – 9-11 hours per day

Parents should count back from the top end of the range appropriate to their child’s age to calculate a bedtime (e.g. for a school age child expected to wake up at 7 a.m. count back eleven hours for a bed time of 8 p.m.). They should monitor when their child wakes naturally and adjust bedtime accordingly. Parents should try to stay within the guidelines as most children will need to sleep for at least the minimum time for their age group.

In addition to ensuring that children get enough sleep, there are steps parents can take to guarantee good-quality sleep.

Establish a routine

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Have a regular bedtime routine. For sixty minutes before bed, do not allow use of any electronic devices or screen time. Lower the lights and engage in quiet activities for thirty minutes before bedtime. Reading is perfect! Either read a book together or encourage your child to read on their own.

Ensure the routine is consistent

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Ensure that bedtime is fixed throughout the week. Avoid allowing children to stay up late, even at weekends or during school holidays. A child’s need for sleep goes beyond schooling; it is also vital for healthy development and even missing small amounts can cause problems.

Create a sleep-friendly environment

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Ensure that children’s bedrooms are quiet, cool and dark, and take steps to avoid disturbing a sleeping child. If a younger child is sharing a room with an older sibling, make arrangements to prevent them from waking their younger brother or sister. This can be done by making the child get ready for bed at the same time as their sibling or in another room. Parents may also wish to consider giving the older child the bed closest to the door or the bottom bunk.

Consistency is key

Once a bedtime routine has been established, it is important to stick to it. By following the advice above, parents can help their children maintain healthy sleep habits that will ensure they are always ready for the many challenges that childhood will throw at them.

James Patterson has been working as an educator in Singapore since 2014 and teaches at LCentral’s Bukit Timah. He has a sound understanding of phonics, and over the years he has helped many children on their journey to becoming independent readers. James understands the pressures and difficulties of the MOE English syllabus and strives to inspire each of his students to reach their potential. He is passionate about the importance of regular reading and the role it can play in the development of young learners’ vocabulary, grammar and writing skills.