Sleep has long been regarded as an influential factor in childhood development. Most parents would agree that getting a quality night’s sleep is crucial not only for their children but for them too!
A restless night in many households can throw off the entire routine for the following day. Leaving both parents and kids grumpy and on edge. Unfortunately, sleep problems are very common in young children.
“Today more than a third of school aged children experience sleep issues, which can significantly affect their cognitive ability and behavioural patterns,” says Dr Tony Tanious, an expert in family medicine from House Call Doctor.
The benefits of quality sleep for childhood development are astronomical and ensuring your little one is getting the right amount of sleep is highly important. “Sufficient sleep promotes growth and immunity, reduces cortisol and other stress hormones, plus it improves children’s attention spans,” says Dr Tanious.
“Adequate sleep is crucial for every child’s physical development and cognitive learning.” But what is the right amount of sleep for your child?
According to the Sleep Health Foundation the amount of sleep children require depends on their age:
- 0 – 3 months = 14 – 17 hours
- 4 – 11 months = 12 – 15 hours
- 1 – 2 years = 11 – 14 hours
- 3 – 5 years = 10 – 13 hours
If your little one is struggling to get to sleep some nights or wakes often, there are some strategies your family can implement to try and help.
- Limit screens before bed
In today’s world of smartphones and tablets it may be difficult to cut back on screen time before bed. Although some educational shows may support cognitive development it is also important to monitor any negative impacts screens may be having on sleep patterns.
Whether it be watching TV right before bed or playing games on a handheld device, too much screen time before bed can impact sleep quality.
“Screens interrupt the body’s melatonin levels, which is the hormone responsible for our natural wake and sleep cycle,” says Dr Tanious. “Melatonin levels rise with darkness and are suppressed by the light of electronics, so screens can be a considerable disruption to sleep.”
- Identify behavioural issues
A common cause of sleep disturbances in children is behavioural issues such as not sleeping in their own bed, not settling, waking up during the night or struggling to wake in the morning.
A sleep specialist can help identify the causes of this but children generally grow out of these habits. In some cases they may be anxious about bedtime due to fear of the dark or nightmares. To assist with this try installing a night light. This can help children recognise their environment if they wake during the night and feel safe to fall asleep.
- Create a positive bedtime routine
A bedtime routine may help your child wind down after a busy day. This could last 30-60 minutes and should include activities associated with rest. Bubble baths, quiet reading or gentle music are good examples of ‘wind down activities’.
“Creating a bedtime routine for your child assists in developing a positive attitude towards sleep,” says Dr Tanious. “A nightly routine will allow your child’s body and mind to prepare for rest, which can help overcome behavioural issues associated with sleep.”
A big part of this routine should include associating the bedroom with only rest and not play. “Game consoles, computers and televisions in the bedroom can be a mental distraction even when not in use,” says Dr Tony. “Removing these items may stabilise your child’s melatonin levels, and make the bedroom a place associated with rest, rather than play.”