Sleep is an important part of healthy growth and development in children, just like nutrition and physical activity.
Contrary to the common perception that sleep is only a passive state during which the bodily processes slow down and the body rests itself at the end of the day, many active physiological processes take place in the body during sleep.
Amongst these are memory consolidation and growth hormone secretion which are important physiological processes in children.
The paediatric sleep specialist is concerned with both the quality and quantity of sleep in children.
Sleep-related disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea can disrupt a child’s sleep.
Medical conditions in children, such as uncontrolled asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema, can affect the quality and duration of a child’s sleep.
School and social pressures and the
increased usage of electronic devices in this day and age can also impact the bedtime and the duration of sleep in children and adolescents.
Effects of Poor Sleep Poor sleep can have various adverse effects on a child’s health:
Sleep architecture (the pattern and proportion of the different sleep stages during sleep) and sleep requirements evolve with the development and maturation of the central nervous system, as a child progresses from infancy through childhood and adolescence to adulthood.
Newborns spend an average of 14 to 17 hours in a 24-hour period asleep. They may sleep for three to five hours at a stretch (two to three hours in breastfed babies), and then wake for one to three hours in between.
Infants between four to 11 months old sleep for an average of 12 to 15 hours in a 24-hour period. This includes sleep in the night, with usually two to four daytime naps.
In toddlers, their sleep needs averages between 11 to 14 hours in a 24-hour period (including daytime naps). The sleep duration decreases further in pre-schoolers, to between 10 to 13 hours. By five years of age, most children stop taking daytime naps.
School-going children should be highly active and alert during waking hours, and the majority require between nine to 11 hours of sleep at night.
At the onset of puberty,
adolescents may develop a two-hour phase delay in their circadian rhythm (‘body clock’) leading to a natural tendency to fall asleep at later times. The majority of adolescents require an average of about eight to 10 hours of sleep.
There is no ‘golden rule’ to the exact amount of sleep needed at different ages, and there are often individual variations in sleep requirements, sleep patterns as well as tolerance to sleep deprivation. In general, the duration of sleep is sufficient if the child feels wellrested on waking spontaneously and is able to function normally throughout the day.
Some of the signs of insufficient sleep include:
The following advice can help children achieve better sleep:
The sleep and wake times of newborns and infants are often influenced by their need to be fed or changed.
It is important that parents understand how newborns and infants sleep so that they can set realistic expectations.
Parents with newborns and infants may consider the following advice to help their babies develop the ability to selfsoothe (It is never too early to start!):
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