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Last Updated: September 25, 2020

The collective importance of sleep in the life of children is the same today just as it has been through the years, only now, the challenges brought about by technology, urbanization, and 21st-century lifestyle have cast sleep in the backseat!

The modern-day generations sleep for very hours or worse, sleep under the bright light produced by electric bulbs and computer screens. Besides the dependence on electric lighting and rampant misuse of technology, modern-day families have to contend with overcrowded living and sleeping environments.

The habits are becoming the norm even for the very young ones who have no clue whatsoever these are damaging their sleep/wake cycle and biological clock.

Understanding sleep …

In order to appreciate the importance of sleep in the life of children, we probably have to understand the role of two important hormones:

  • Melatonin
  • Muman growth hormone

1. Melatonin for sleep-wake cycle regulation:

Melatonin hormone is released by the pineal gland, a tiny endocrine gland located in the brain, to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, in order to make the body feel sleepy and therefore sleep. This hormone is only released when we are deeply asleep and in a conducive sleeping environment.

2. Human Growth Hormone for body growth:

The Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released by the pituitary gland to help the body grow. Just like Melatonin, this hormone is released at night, in the course of uninterrupted and quality sleep. The hormone facilitates height and weight growth in children.


So, how much sleep should children have?

There is no magic number of hours that parents and children should spend sleeping. This is because the human body responds differently to sleep stimuli in varying conditions and states of mind.

Still, adults are advised to accumulate at least 7 hours of sleep while young children require a minimum of 10 hours.

According to WebMD, the following can serve as sleeping guidelines for children up to 18 years.

YearsHours
0 – 114 -16
1 – 312 – 14
3 – 610 – 12
6 – 12 9 – 11
12 – 18 8 – 9

A community of parents at Parent’s Wishlist also breaks down the sleeping pattern even further, with a focus on toddlers and infants from 0 to 5 years. They emphasize the importance of consistent sleep, devoid of obstructions, such as nightmares and noise.

In order to ensure children sleep better, the amount and quantity of noise, light, temperature, technology use, and electromagnetic fields in the bedroom should be kept at a minimum, or avoided completely.


Now, what is the importance of sleep in child development?

the importance of sleep is reflected the atmosphere inside the bedroom
Create a conducive atmosphere in the bedroom for your sleeping child. Image by Indra Irawan from Pixabay

Sleep is arguably the most important activity children have to go through very early on in life. In addition to the mothers’ milk/baby formula, sleep is critical in fulfilling early childhood development milestones such as body growth, wellbeing, and cognitive development.


1. Immunity against germs via the T Cells

Sufficient and consistent sleep is a necessary human activity to boost bodily immunity against germs and other pathogens. Germs are littered everywhere in the environment and on other surfaces. They are present on the table, chair, washroom, washing sponge, and a lot of other surfaces – all in the house.

The proliferation of technology devices has also brought germs even closer to us through the smudge on the smartphone screen. We contaminate them with fecal matter every time we visit the washrooms or touch other contaminated dirty screens! We readily share these devices with children and thus spread our germs!

< Here is how easy it is to contaminate the washroom with fecal matter >

While it is true some germs are helpful inside the body and the stomach, in particular, many others are dangerous inside the body of the growing child.

Germs can lead to numerous health and medical conditions such as cold and flu. To treat them, we always run around looking for quick fixes such as antibiotics, and other medications. These may work or not but should be used as the last resort.

The best medicine the doctor will always prescribe in the event of a cold is to let the child sleep. Yes, sleep and let sleep. When a child sleeps sufficiently and consistently, especially at night, the body generates a strong presence of immunity with the help of the Helper T cells. These can fight off germ invasions using the B and T cells.

In the event of a germ attack, the T cells quickly attach themselves onto affected cells through a sticky protein known as integrin. The protein facilitates the destruction of the invading bacteria or virus.

Deprivation of sleep interferes with the production and activities of T cells. The very few of these cells will come under attack from estrogen hormones.


2. Importance of sleep body for growth spurts

It is only during sleep that the physical body of a child actually grows in inches. In the first year alone, the physical height and weight of a child will most likely grow three times over, most of the time.

The Human Growth Hormone is released in the brain by the pituitary gland to the bloodstream during sleep. The release leads to increased cell reproduction to promote body growth. The hormone actually stimulates the liver to facilitate muscle and borne expansion.

Growth spurts should be evident in children when they eat more than usual and are sleeping for longer speels into the morning hours. Michelle Lampl, MD, Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta, says this in regards to growth spurts,

… growth spurts not only occur during sleep but are significantly influenced by sleep [and] longer sleep [equals] greater growth in body length,

WebMD

Besides the normal physical growth, the body repair of broken cells also take place at night in the course of deep sleep.


3. Importance of sleep in mental growth

Very young children also experience tremendous mental growth when they get sufficient and consistent sleep.

Through mental development, kids learn to communicate, think, imagine, remember, and observe life around them.

Eventually, they develop the ability to master communication skills, think, and solve problems. Initially, babies will only communicate with gestures and sounds, but will eventually learn to communicate verbally as time goes by, through sleep.

Sufficient sleep is good for the brain in many ways. First, it gives it time enough to process and optimize information absorbed in the course of the day.

Children who sleep for optimal hours,

  • grasp concepts better
  • have sharpened attention
  • have lower mental stress
  • are better in memory retention

The reverse is true about children who sleep for less than the recommended hours.


4. Sleep and brain detoxification

Every so often we rush to purchase over-the-counter drugs to detoxify our bodies and those of our children. Or else we drink lots of warm water in the morning to get the job done.

While the above hacks are probably fine, we are probably ignoring the very basic and natural hack to detoxify our bodies. Sleep detoxifies both the brain and the physical body.

A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Center for Translational Neuromedicine, discovered that sleep is a very crucial ingredient in brain detoxification, in particular.

It noted that the brain reduces by 60% during sleep which basically creates room for waste removal. The detoxification takes place through the glymphatic system.

According to the lead author at URMC,

… the brain has different functional states when asleep and when awake. In fact, the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.

Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc.

In addition, sleep washes away the build-up of toxins in the brain which is known to cause illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.


Important!

The complex hustle and bustle of life today take a toll on many of us that we hardly sleep through the recommended hours. Our biological clock for the sleep/wake cycle is simply hurt badly! Arguably, we should not let this happen to children. We should cut out all sleep detractors, make them understand the importance of sleep, and let them sleep at night for as long as their heads can stay down.