The Importance of Sleep for Your Child

Did you know that lack of sleep can cause problems for your child?  

WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES

If your preschooler isn’t getting at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep daily, he’s likely to not be getting enough for his brain and body to function at its optimal.

According to Dr Michael Lim, a consultant at the Division of Paediatric Pulmonary and Sleep at National University Hospital, inadequate sleep, especially in young ones, should not be taken lightly. “Sleep deprivation can have long-term physical health consequences. Lack of sleep has negative effects on academic performance and motivation. Children can also display poorer decision-making skills, daytime behaviour problems, poor judgment, fatigue and daytime lethargy. There is also a higher risk of reporting depressive symptoms, anxiety and withdrawal in sleep-deprived children. Sleep deprivation can have long-term physical health consequences such as obesity. There is also an increased risk of development of type 2 diabetes in obese adolescents,” he says.

Dr Sarah Packer, consultant family physician at Raffles Medical agrees completely. “Getting enough sleep has a direct impact on both physical and mental progress. Healthy sleep promotes good neurological development and appears to prevent learning and behavioural problems.”

 

What is Enough?

Experts agree that the amount of sleep children need decreases as they grow, with newborns needing the most. However, it is also true that children vary widely in terms of the number of hours of sleep they need.

How to tell

 

As a rule of thumb, “Your child is getting enough sleep if she is waking up happy and well-rested, looking forward to the day’s activities. She has good energy levels during the day and at night time she falls asleep within 20 to 30 minutes of bedtime,” says Dr Packer.

 

The breakdown

To be even more specific, Dr Lim adds, “Generally, newborn babies require an average of 13 to 14 and a half hours of sleep a day, but the variation is widest in this age group, and can range from 10 to 19 hours. The average amount of sleep required goes down to about 12 to 14 hours total daily at one year of age (including naps). Toddlers up to three years of age should be getting 11 to 13 hours of sleep in total per day on average. Between three to five years of age, children require about 10 to 12 hours of sleep and reduce the number of daytime naps to one or no naps at all. School-aged children (six to 12 years) should have an average of 9 to 10 hours of sleep each day. In adolescence (12 to 18 years), the vast majority of children are not getting adequate sleep; they should be aiming for nine to nine and a quarter hours of sleep, but in reality, only about 20 per cent of adolescents achieve this. As a result, many accumulate a sleep debt which they try to make up for over the weekends.”

 

Does an Hour too Little Cause Problems?

It may be surprising, but the short answer is yes: even a small sleep deficit daily can cause problems.

 

Our experts agree that the effects of sleep deprivation are cumulative and symptoms increase progressively with the amount of sleep deficit.

 

So if a child lacks an hour of sleep on a single occasion, it can be compensated for without too much difficulty, but if he lacks an hour per day on a regular basis it can become a big problem. In addition, children are more sensitive to sleep deprivation than adults and show symptoms such as fatigue much more easily,” says Dr Packer.

If your child has a sleep debt that isn’t being paid back, he is likely to be sleepy in the daytime, have lapses in attention, not be as alert, be slower at tasks that require thinking skills or quick reflexes and be unable to concentrate as well as he should in school. “Individuals tend to overestimate their ability to function despite sleep loss,” says Dr Lim.

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