Sleeping to grow

Sleeping to grow
When your child sleeps well, he’s in a better mood. But did you know that getting a good night’s sleep also helps him to learn and to be in better physical and mental health?

When your child sleeps well, he’s in a better mood. But did you know that getting a good night’s sleep also helps him to learn and to be in better physical and mental health?

While your child sleeps, his brain is working hard. It is busy storing all the day’s learning into memory. Neurons connect, allowing your child to gradually gain better control of his emotions and acts, to solve problems, to reason, and to develop intellectually. Good sleep also boosts his immune system. Last but not least, while he sleeps, your child releases hormones that help him grow.

If a child is regularly deprived of sleep, however, he runs a higher risk of suffering from language delay. “He may also be more agitated and impulsive when he starts school,” says Dominique Petit from the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine at the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal. A child who is sleep deprived also has a harder time learning. He may have difficulty concentrating, retaining information, thinking and finding solutions.

Daytime naps are also important and help consolidate learning. An American study revealed that when children don’t nap, they are more anxious, less playful, and less good at problem solving. “Other studies have shown that children who didn’t take their regular nap tended to forget what they’d seen earlier in the day,” says Petit. Of course, after a certain age, a child no longer needs to nap in order to function well and learn.

Sleep and weight

Children who sleep less also run a higher risk of becoming overweight, observes Jennifer McGrath, director of the Healthy Heart Project, a Concordia University research project on sleep and obesity. “Sleep deprivation increases the levels of cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in how the body reacts to stress and which is also linked to obesity,” she explains. It can also impact the hormones related to appetite and hunger signals. As a result, children who don’t sleep enough tend to eat more.

The link between sleep deprivation and obesity actually appears early. Dominique Petit notes that at 2-and-a-half years old, toddlers who sleep less than 9 hours per day are already more likely to be overweight.

But it’s not just the amount of sleep that counts. Jennifer McGrath’s work has shown that the quality of sleep has an even higher impact on the risk of obesity. “Children who sleep less well, who go to bed too late and who wake up more often at night are more likely to carry extra pounds.”

Those who need less sleep

That said, the quality and length of your child’s sleep depends on several factors, including his temperament. Some children sleep a lot, others a little less. However, children who genuinely require less sleep (e.g. those who sleep one or two hours less than the minimum recommended time) are relatively few and far between. “To fall into this category, your child would need to be able to function well in general and be in a good mood during the day, despite sleeping less than other children his age,” Dominique Petit explains.

A child who doesn’t sleep enough may find it harder to manage his emotions and adapt to change.

Before concluding that your child doesn’t need as much sleep as the experts recommend, it’s important to pay attention to cues that may indicate that he’s sleep deprived : difficulty waking up in the morning, difficulty concentrating, agitation, aggression, impulsiveness, irritability, repetitive colds or other infections, and so forth.

Just like other children, a child who doesn’t need as much sleep still needs to go to bed at the same time every night, to have a calm bedtime routine, and to learn to fall asleep on his own in order to get good-quality sleep.

How much sleep does your child need?
0 to 3 months : 14 to 17 hours
4 to 11 months : 12 to 15 hours
1 to 2 years : 11 to 14 hours
3 to 5 years : 10 to 13 hours
6 to 13 years : 9 to 11 hours
These recommendations include naps. Generally speaking, a child between 4 and 18 months old takes one to two naps per day lasting on average 1.5 to 2 hours. Towards 18 to 24 months old, those who were taking two naps often drop the morning nap and sleep only in the afternoons. Between 3 and 5 years old, most children no longer need to nap.
Source : U.S. National Sleep Foundation

Naître et grandir

Source : Naître et grandir magazine, October 2016
Research and copywriting : Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review : Evelyne Martello, clinical nurse, Sleep Disorder Clinic, CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, Rivière-des-Prairies Hospital

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