The Importance of Sleep in Child Development in the 21st Century
The importance of sleep is the same today as it has always been through the years, only now, the challenges created by technology and urbanization has cast sleep in the backseat! To start with, our busy work schedules, the rampant misuse of technology devices, our dependence on the electric light, and finally the overcrowded environments, have all left us with a damaged sleep/wake cycle and biological clock.
The fact is, we need sufficient sleep and so do the children. In order to appreciate the importance of sleep in our lives, we may need to first understand the role of two important hormones in facilitating sufficient sleep:
- Muman growth hormone
1. Melatonin for Sleep-Wake Cycle Regulation:
First is the Melatonin hormone, which is released by the pineal gland, a tiny endocrine gland located in the brain. Melatonin is important in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, to make the body feel sleepy. This hormone is only released when a child goes to sleep and the sleeping environment is dark enough. For this reason, we must turn off the lights in the bedroom when children go to sleep.
2. Human Growth Hormone for Body Growth:
Second is the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which 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 sleep. The hormone facilitates height and weight growth in children.
So, how much sleep should children get?
There is no magic number of hours anyone should sleep. The human body responds differently in varying conditions and states of mind. However, according to
|0 – 1||14 -16|
|1 – 3||12 – 14|
|3 – 6||10 – 12|
|6 – 12||9 – 11|
|12 – 18||8 – 9|
A community of parents at Parent’s Wishlist 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.
In order to ensure children sleep better, the amount of noise, light, temperature, technology use, and electromagnetic fields in the bedroom should be regulated.
Now, what is the importance of sleep in child development?
Sleep is actually the most important activity for baby development, besides the need for mothers’ milk/baby formula. Sleep is critical in the achievement of early childhood development milestones by ensuring that children grow from being only toddlers into healthy adults. It is fundamental for body growth, rejuvenation, and cognitive development.
1. Immunity Against Germs Via the T Cells
Plenty of germs exist in the environment and other surfaces and are either helpful or infectious if they find their way inside the body of the growing child. The fact is, germs are littered everywhere. They are present on the table, chair, washroom, washing sponge, and a lot of other surfaces – all in the house.
The proliferation of tech devices has also brought germs even closer to us through the smudge on the smartphone screen. Our hands/fingers touch all kinds of surfaces containing germs, including surfaces with fecal matter, and thereafter touch our cell phone screens with the dirty fingers. We readily share these devices with everyone and spread our germs!
Germs lead to numerous health conditions such as cold and flu. To treat them, we are always running around 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 at night, the body generates a strong sense of immunity with the help of the Helper T cells. These are known to 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 subsequently destroys the invading bacteria or virus.
Deprivation of sleep interferes with the production and activities of T cells which 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 organs such as the liver to facilitate muscle and borne expansion.
This enables weight and height gains. 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,
… 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 physical growth, the body of the child will also self-repair broken cells during sleep.
3. Importance of Sleep in Mental Growth
Very young children also experience tremendous mental growth when they get sufficient sleep. By mental development, kids will learn to think, imagine, remember, and observe, etc. Eventually, they will develop the ability to solve problems and master communication skills. Initially, babies will communicate with gestures and sounds, but will eventually learn to communicate verbally as time goes by.
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. Or else we drink lots of warm water in the morning to get the job done. That is fine, but by doing so, we probably ignore the very basic and natural hack to detoxify the body.
Sleep is the best detoxification trick out there but largely overlooked. It works with children just as it does with adults. 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 process is done through a process called 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.
The complex hustle and bustle of life usually take a toll on every adult today, that we hardly sleep through the recommended hours. Our biological clock for the sleep/wake cycle is simply bad! Arguably, we should not let this happen to children.
Let us make children understand the importance of sleep from very early on, and let them sleep at night for as long as their heads can stay down.
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