Sleep. It’s important. We know this. But what are the key sleep facts we need to know as parents? Read on to find out…
1. All children wake frequently through the night.
Waking up during the night is an evolutionary based behavior that is thought to protect infants from SIDS. Even later in childhood, all children wake frequently through the night.
You, yes you, parents wake up through the night. The difference is you fall back asleep so quickly that you do not remember. This is because you have learned to self-soothe.
Sleep is a learned behavior. As parents, our job is to coach our children on strategies that help them learn how fall back asleep on their own.
2. Children who are overly tired have a harder time getting to sleep and staying asleep.
Multiple studies show children who go to bed later take longer to fall asleep and wake up more often. This extra time spent awake contributes to over-exhaustion which then makes it harder to fall asleep the next time. It is truly a vicious cycle.
3. Most children under 4 need naps to meet their sleep requirements.
Children ages 2 to 4 need about 12 hours of sleep in 24 hours. If this is not accomplished during nighttime hours, a nap is needed meet sleep requirements.
4. Sleep loss is cumulative.
A child who goes to bed thirty minutes late several days a week can become sleep-deprived by the end of the week. Getting enough sleep is important in maintaining optimal brain function.
5. Sleep is more than just your body recovering.
We have all heard that sleep is needed for our body to recover. New research points to a new purpose for sleep – to essentially flush out the brain and organize it to take in new information the next day. This process takes a lot of energy which is why scientists believe it is done while a person sleeps.
This may explain why young children need more sleep than you. They are taking in more novel experiences and information on a daily basis. Their brains need more time to declutter and make room for more information.
I liken this process to an episode of Hoarders. Children are constantly taking in (hoarding) new information and the brain becomes cluttered quickly. Each time your child sleeps, the master organizers come in and create new pathways for your children to take in and process information.
6. Young children exhibit different symptoms of sleep-deprivation.
While most sleep-deprived adults appear sleepy and sluggish, children may appear hyperactive and irritable. We can blame this phenomenon on hormones.
When kids are overly tired, their bodies release hormones that make them seem wound up at bedtime. Try putting your children to bed before they hit their “second wind.”
7. The timing of sleep is crucial.
Putting a child to bed too early or too late may make getting to sleep and staying asleep very difficult. Keeping a regular schedule strengthens their circadian rhythm and promotes quality sleep.
8. What time your child wakes up each day is important.
Have you ever noticed that your child will wake up at the same time regardless of when he went to bed? This is due to his circadian rhythm. Wake times are rarely influenced by bedtimes. The time your child wakes up each morning is the best indicator of his sleep/wake cycle.
Let’s consider a 2 year old who takes a two hour nap at daycare each day and wakes up at 6am each morning. This child needs a bedtime between 7 and 8pm to achieve the recommended 12 to 13 hours of sleep in 24 hours.
9. Children develop attitudes about sleep at a very young age.
Allowing a child to stay up later as a reward promotes an attitude that sleep is something to be avoided. Similarly, sending a child to bed early as punishment is also sending the wrong message.
Children thrive on routines. Setting up a bedtime routine that includes activities they enjoy (taking a bath, reading a book, listening to calming music or white noise) sets the stage for a healthy sleep attitude. The key to raising a good sleeper is making bedtime an enjoyable experience.
At our house, we’ve been reading Goodnight Moon at bedtime since birth. As soon as I pull it out, Jack knows it’s time for bedtime. As a kid who really struggles with transitions, reading the same book has been helpful in him learning what to expect.
We also own the myBaby SoundSpa Lullaby Sounds & Projection. We love it because it plays continuously through the night. It helps to drown out the noise from his parents who enjoy staying up past 7:30pm. Spending quality time with your significant other leads to happier marriages!
10. Chronic sleep loss makes it harder for children to succeed in school.
Children who are chronically over-tired experience more difficulty staying focused and emotionally regulated, two indicators of school success. According to a study by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine:
“Sleep deprivation increases the incidence of academic failure, depression and behavioral problems…studies have shown that inadequate and disruptive sleep can lead to problems with behavior and mood along with difficulty with cognition.”