The Importance of Proper Sleep for Babies and Young Children
There are arguably no three things more important for a person's overall physical and mental health than eating a healthful diet, getting some form of regular exercise...and getting plenty of sleep every night.
We often see adults -- and even young children! -- walking around with dark circles or puffiness under their eyes: tell-tale signs of ongoing, chronic sleep deprivation.
In this increasingly fast-paced society, it seems that many people compete for who can cram the most activities into their day. These adults, and the children of parents who are that competitive, may find themselves short on sleep more than occasionally.
If there's a doubt in anyone's mind that sleep is an absolute key element in keeping us healthy, consider that chronic sleep loss puts adults at greater risk for:
- Heart disease (including heart attack)
- High blood pressure
- Premature wrinkling of the skin
The illnesses listed above are some of the most common in our day. Why put ourselves at greater risk for them by shorting ourselves on sleep? And these conditions of course don't include the more obvious problems that arise from not getting a good night's rest, such as impaired judgement and slower reaction times -- both of which can have disastrous consequences when we get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
Indeed, one study published in England found that adults who didn't get enough sleep were 50 percent more likely to die from all causes than their counterparts who got enough rest!
Most adults require eight hours of sleep a night, to be and feel fully rested, though as we enter our golden years, our sleep requirements do decrease some. Most people who think they can function on less are only fooling themselves.
Children Require Much More Sleep than Adults.
Getting enough sleep is of course vital for babies and children, as well.
- A newborn infant will sleep between 16 and 20 hours in a 24-hour period
- A six-month-old requires an average of 11 hours a night, plus two daily naps totaling another 3-4 hours
- A two-year-old will sleep around 13 hours, including a nap
- A four-year-old sleeps from 11-12 hours, including a daily nap
- A five-year-old child may or may not need a nap; his or her daily sleep requirement is 10-11 hours
- Six- to eight-year-olds also require 10-11 hours, though they probably no longer need to nap
If you're not sure whether your child is getting enough sleep or not, the following are probable signs that he or she isn't: they routinely fall asleep in the car when you're driving; you have to wake them up every morning; they're cranky, irritable or lethargic.
Why is it important for children to get enough sleep every day?
As is the case with adults, children need to get their daily requirement of sleep for their body's systems to function at their best. Sufficient rest helps children with physical recuperation and growth; it strengthens their immune systems; it aids brain development; it helps with learning, memory, information processing and other important cognitive tasks -- all important reasons to make sure your young one is well-rested!
How to help children develop good sleeping habits
First, maintain as consistent a nightly routine as possible. A nightly bath, a back rub, a low-sugar bedtime snack, a story, soft music -- something that relaxes the child and announces in a predictable manner that it's time to go to sleep.
During sleep, keep the baby's or child's sleeping area quiet and dark. Refrain from using even a night light where baby or child sleeps. The darker and quieter the room, the better-quality sleep your child will attain.
Some adults think that they or their children will sleep better if there's low-volume music or TV left on during the night. That is not the case at all. When it comes to optimal rest, the brain can best regenerate itself when there are no outside stimuli to interfere with the restorative cycles that it will undergo periodically throughout the night. If the setting isn't dark enough or quiet enough, you may find that you or your child slept enough hours...but will still feel tired or groggy the next day.