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The Importance of Sleep in Child Development in the 21st Century 

The Importance of Sleep in Child Development in the 21st Century

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The question of sleep in child development is of particular importance today because of emerging challenges in technology and lifestyle. Sleep is critical in the achievement of childhood development milestones and is in place to ensure your child grows into a healthy adult. Sleep rejuvenates the body and provides a timeframe for physical and mental growth.

Other important basics for enhanced child development include,

  • physical wellness
  • good environment
  • conducive shelter
  • nutrient-rich food

In order to make your child sleep better, make a point to regulate the amount of noise, light, temperature, tech use and [wiki]electromagnetic fields[/wiki] in the bedroom. Ensure the bed too, is comfortable.

Melatonin and Human Growth

A conducive atmosphere during sleep (at night) facilitates the natural release of two particular [wiki]hormones[/wiki] to supercharge body growth and/or repair:

1. Melatonin for Sleep-Wake Cycle Regulation:

First is the [wiki]Melatonin [/wiki] 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 the child goes to sleep and the bedroom is dark enough. For this reason, ensure to turn off the light in the bedroom when your child goes to sleep.

2. Human Growth Hormone for Body Growth:

Second is the [wiki]Human Growth Hormone[/wiki](HGH) which is released by the pituitary gland to help the body grow big. Just like Melatonin, this hormone is released at night, in the course of long and deep sleep. The hormone facilitates height and weight body growth in your child.

Deprivation of sufficient sleep is known to hijack childhood development milestones and alter brain activity. The following emotional and health side effects can happen in the short and long run, as a result of insufficient sleep:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • body burnout
  • allergies
  • obesity
  • mood swings
  • heart complications
  • weakened immunity
  • vulnerability to infection

Child Sleep in the 21st Century

The matter of sleep is receiving particular attention in the 21st Century because of the ubiquitous nature and effect of technology on parenting. In particular, is the influence of mobile electronic gadgets, led by the smartphone. It gets even more complex when parents willingly shove these devices in children’s hands to keep them busy.

A seemingly good hack, I know, but a negative one, so to speak.

Electronic gadgets will eat up the bulk of your child’s daytime hours because of their addictive nature, making it hard for him/her to sleep. Then the innocent soul will develop plenty of sleeping disorders during the night. The child will as well crave these devices during bedtime. The mind will be occupied and haunted by the thoughts of gadgets and related visualizations during sleep.

It is also worth noting the negative side effects that come with these gadgets. In particular are the [wiki]elctromagnetic fields[/wiki](EMF) emissions, capable of altering body growth negatively and inducing other health complications.

So, how much sleep should your child get?

There is no magic number of hours a person should sleep. The human body responds differently in varying conditions and state of mind. While some individuals take a short while to reach the [wiki]REM sleep[/wiki] stage, or whatever satiffactory state of sleeep it is, others struggle, and may probably need more sleep hours.

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

Years Hours
0 – 1 14 -16
1 – 3 12 – 14
3 – 6 10 – 12
6 – 12 9 – 11
12 – 18 8 – 9

Of, course, your child may not achieve these sleep pattern routines, nobody possibly can. But it is a good idea to set a target that is an hour or so to the dot. You should not deprive your child of more than 3 hours of recommended sleep on a regular basis.

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

1. Immunity Against Germs Using 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 germs are littered everywhere. They are present on the table, chair, washroom, washing sponge, and a lot of other surfaces – all in your house.

The proliferation of tech devices has also brought germs even closer to you and me through the smartphone touchscreen. I bet you share your cell phone readily with everyone and spread germs unknowing. Yours and my hands/fingers touch all kinds of surfaces containing germs. These may include surfaces with fecal matter in the washroom and everything else understandably dirty. Thereafter we touch our cell phone screens with the same dirty fingers. The smartphone is a conducive living surface for germs owing to the ever-present warm temperature. Germs survive in this condition for seven days and more.

The more we share and touch our smartphones at home, the more we help spread the germs present on screen surfaces.

smartphone touchscreen
The smartphone touchscreen retains a lot of germs because the warmth from the battery creates condusive environment for survival

Germs lead to numerous health conditions such as cold and flu. To treat them, parents always run 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 your 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 which are known to fight off germ invasions using the B and T cells.

In the event of germ attack, the T cells quickly attach themselves onto affected cells through a sticky protein known as [wiki]integrin[/wiki]. 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. Body Growth Spurts

Good and persistent sleep leads to the release of the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which supercharges the physical growth. Sleep in addition to healthy eating and physical activity in particular, are three very crucial requirements for overall body development of the child. The three contribute immenselly in the growth of the human body.

HGH is released in the brain by the [wiki]pituitary gland[/wiki] to the bloodstream during the time of 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 expansions. This enable weight and height gains.

You will know your child is undergoing [wiki] growth spurts[/wiki] when he or she eats more than usual and eats even more food in one sitting. The child will also sleep longer into the morning hours.

Michelle Lampl, MD, PhD 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,

Good sleep leads to a healthy growth pattern

This, therefore, means less sleep over time leads to stunted growth in a child.

3. Mental Growth

The hustle and bustle of life usually take a toll in adults, who hardly sleep long enough. Introducing children to early and lengthy hours of sleep prepares them mentally for this eventuality when they grow up. 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.

Poor sleep is associated with depression and anxiety which does not prepare a growing child for [wiki] cognitive[/wiki] demands in life.

Children who sleep for optimal hours,

  • stay awake during the day
  • 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.

the brain
The brain retains information better with good sleep

4. 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 ignore the very basic hack that will help us detoxify the body without swallowing a tablet.

Sleep is the best detoxification trick out there but largely overlooked. It works with children too. Sleep detoxifies both the brain and the physical body. While it is cumbersome for adults to stick to strict sleep routines, it does not hurt if this can be done with children. It prepares them well for the years to come.

A study by 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 they call glymphatic system.

According to their lead author,

… 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.

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