Today, March 15, World Sleep Day is celebrated , an international initiative that aims to raise awareness among the population about the importance of maintaining good sleep hygiene.
Those healthy sleep habits should start in childhood. Parents have to teach our children to sleep, as well as to eat, because a lack of sleep has a negative impact on the child and also on her family.
This is stated by Dr. Marta Moraleda , neurophysiologist, expert in infant sleep and member of the Spanish Sleep Society (SES), who explains how many hours they need to sleep and why , in addition to the guidelines to achieve it and the warning signs of possible sleep disorders .
How many hours of sleep do children need?
It depends on your age. A newborn spends an average of 16 hours sleeping, and nighttime awakenings are very common. Little by little he will regularize his sleep at night, although during the first year he will need to sleep between 12 and 14 hours.
From the age of two and throughout primary education, the child sleep expert assures that the child must rest between nine and eleven hours, and between eight and a half and nine and a half hours, during adolescence , “something difficult to achieve, since at this age the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, is delayed, so they take longer to fall asleep”.
Why is sleep so important in childhood?
During sleep it improves memory and brain maturation , so getting little rest or sleeping poorly can affect children and adolescents during the day.
As Dr. Marta Moraleda explains, “lack of sleep can alter behavior and mood, make them more active than usual, make them less attentive in class, make them appear unpleasant or more irritable.”
It can also cause daytime sleepiness, problems with learning and mental development, and therefore affect your school performance.
But sleep experts point to more benefits of a good rest in children:
- Improves your development and fitness. Some phases of sleep are associated with the repair of body tissues and the conservation and recovery of energy.
During sleep, the brain secretes different substances that regulate many of the body’s functions, including growth hormone.
- Encourages the development of creativity. During sleep, brain repair processes take place, neurons are reorganized and store what they learned during the day, the most important memories are selected and those that are not are eliminated and forgotten.
Deep sleep facilitates the combination of thoughts in new ways and lets the imagination run wild, allowing the best ideas to appear.
How to help them sleep well?
Sleep, like hunger, is a biological need. Sleeping well, like eating well, is a habit and, therefore, with consistency and repetition it can be learned.
The neurophysiologist explains that we can teach our children to sleep well as babies. This implies far from it that we should let them cry until they fall asleep alone, but neither stay with them until they are dreaming of the little angels.
“Between these two postures, one white and the other black, there are many shades of gray and that is where we must move. It is logical that due to our work schedules we want to hug our children, pamper them as long as possible, even while they sleep.”
He recommends accompanying the child with patience and understanding, favoring the transition to sleep with a ritual that will vary as they grow, until they are completely autonomous at bedtime, which is the goal.
Dr. Moraleda assures that to achieve this, the most important thing is to seek general and specific routines for sleep. She talks about:
- Shower at a certain time.
- Have dinner at a fixed time and lightly, to facilitate digestion and, therefore, rest.
- Allow him a time to relax afterwards, which will serve as an introduction to sleep (between 20 and 30 minutes).
- Always go to bed and get up at the same time.
The child sleep expert even insists on keeping schedules on weekends :
“We should not vary them for more than an hour, since the child’s biological rhythm is stable, it is regulated by daylight, and it does not distinguish between weekdays or holidays. If we break their routine, their brain has to readapt and does not rest well”.
Other habits that help them sleep better:
- Think and design a personal ritual that facilitates sleep. A few caresses, cuddles, a story or a song at bedtime.
- Look for suitable light and sound conditions. Your bedroom should be a place conducive to sleep; that is, cool, dark and quiet.
- Avoid doing physical, mental or emotional activities late in the day , because that speeds up the brain, when it should relax to go to sleep.
- Limit the consumption of chocolate and soft drinks with stimulants such as caffeine or theine.
- Limit the use of any type of screens. The light, noise and attention that electronic devices require create a state of excitement that prevents the child from drifting off to sleep. The child sleep expert insists that we should not ban them from technology, just limit its use:
“You have to park your mobile, tablet or video game consoles an hour before going to sleep, since their screens emit a white or blue light that makes the brain think that it is still daytime.”
The child may show resistance when adapting to these routines, but parents have to understand that with patience, perseverance and time it can be achieved.
Symptoms that you do not rest well
According to the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN), 25 percent of the child population suffers from some type of sleep disorder , so it is important to pay attention to the rest of our children. According to the doctor, it is known if a child’s sleep is inadequate when:
- He wakes up in a bad mood in the morning.
- He complains of headaches on a regular basis.
- Tends to throw tantrums easily.
- He is hyperactive.
- It is difficult for him to concentrate.
- His performance in school declines.
- You have frequent awakenings (3 to 5 times a night, more than 3 nights a week). Up to four years they are frequent and should not worry.
- He is over five years old and falls asleep during the day.
- It takes more than half an hour to fall asleep.
- Cry at night.
You should consult your pediatrician if your lack of sleep affects your child’s daily life, family or social relationships, and academic performance.
The doctor also advises asking for help if the child suffers from nightmares, night terrors or sleepwalking continuously (more than four times a week).
“In these cases, the specialist will assess what is happening, because sometimes childhood insomnia and awakenings are due to respiratory problems (snoring is a sign) and by solving them, the problems end.”
The child sleep expert wants to reassure parents that nightmares are normal in childhood and usually resolve on their own.
“Parents are the reference that gives them security, so when they have a nightmare you have to offer them comfort, and give them reassuring messages that help them go back to sleep.”
The same goes for sleepwalking . According to the expert, it usually has a genetic origin and disappears in adulthood.
To close the topic, Dr. Marta Moraleda reminds us that the child’s rest is fundamental in his development, but it also influences family life : if he sleeps badly, his parents will also sleep badly and that translates into a lack of concentration, a bad mood , physical fatigue, less ability to react behind the wheel…
So he insists on the importance of teaching healthy sleeping habits to children, for their own good and that of everyone.