Little did we know when we first devised our cunning plan of unveiling the secrets of ‘why children need to sleep’ that we would uncover the mysteries of the Universe. Ok perhaps a little dramatic, but wait till you throw a bit of Rapid Eye Movement at this:
When sleeping we enter a state of altered consciousness (we all know this right?) yet this state, for all our advances in research and technology, is still only partially clear and still the subject of intense ongoing research. The fact is, after thousands of years of sleep, we don’t really know exactly why we sleep or what really happens to us when we do! We just know we have to or we will… well let’s just say if we don’t we will end up sleeping for a very very long time!
To lighten this sudden and unexpected stab of intensity here’s an interesting bit of unrelated info we just found out: Did you know that alarm clocks have been invented that monitor your stage of sleep and wake you only from light sleep- which is apparently the best time to be woken up and limits the effects of sleep inertia (which is impaired performance and the feeling of grogginess following an abrupt wakening).
Noctambulisming on, here’s what we think we know about sleep, and reasons why we need to sleep:
1. During sleep our body enters an anabolic state which helps us grow and it triggers our cells to rejuvenate – our immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems repair themselves more effectively when we’re in this state. Do you remember being continuously told to ‘get some rest’ when feeling sick or to ‘sleep it off’- well it actually does help and our parents weren’t just trying to get some peace and quiet. Now let’s say your child turns into a muscle building gym bunny, he/she will be told that the secret to building large strong attractive artery bursting muscles is to have a good workout and then to rest, preferably a long sleep – sleep is prescribed as an essential part of any athlete’s regime.
So if it’s not Arnie then how about a Chris Hoy or a Jessica Ennis? It all starts with a DREAM… sleep moves between two broad types and cycles between these types about 4-5 times a night – 2 types are rapid eye movement (‘REM’ 1 stage) and non-rapid eye movement (‘N’ 3 stages)- so 1 cycle would be N1 > N2 > N3 > N2 > REM. During REM sleep which is about 20-25% of the total time we sleep, we dream the most- well at least it’s thought that during REM we have more chance of actually remembering the dream! Anyway, to stop ourselves from acting out these dreams (while we’re sleeping) our bodies automatically switch into descending muscular atonia- which basically means we protect ourselves in this sleep by activating our bodies ability to partially self-paralyse! (ever had dream where you’re paralysed and you cannot move or wake up… interesting right?). Nightmares being the most intense of vivid dreams often result in us breaking through this paralysis and this isn’t great for a number of reasons- nightmares are horrid (and can really have a nasty and long lasting negative effect on us) and inertia may kick in if we cannot get back to sleep, then there’s sleep deprivation and we may even develop strange debilitating sleeping patterns. But that’s a whole other subject. For the sake of this post, just make sure you have happy thoughts when you fall sleep and deal with the issues locked in your subconscious! Your child included.
2. It has been generally agreed that lack of REM sleep can impair one’s ability to learn complex tasks.
3. Not enough general sleep in any type causes mental, emotional and physical fatigue, a build-up of lack of sleep is referred to as sleep debt- it’s how much sleep you owe your body! Front regions of the brain are affected and this results in diminished abilities to perform high level cognitive functions- which is the ability or act of knowing, perceiving, remembering, reasoning – all the abilities and skills you really want your fast evolving child to develop!
4. Sleep deprivation also negatively affects the immune system.
5. Wounds heal quicker when we sleep!
6. A sleeping body is more effective at removing metabolic waste products!
7. Now here’s an interesting reason that we would place under ‘preservation’ as a reason we sleep – animals create sleeping patterns around times when they are potentially in the most danger. Roaming around at night would put most animals at greatest risk so they stay quiet, hidden in the darkness and fall asleep. Is this perhaps one of the reasons we sleep at night? … This and the fact that we cannot function at optimum levels if we cannot see!
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep
For Children to develop and function properly the following hours of sleep are recommended:
New-borns (0-2 months) 12-18 hours
Infants (3-11 months) 14-15 hours
Toddlers (1-3 years) 12-14 hours
Pre-schoolers (3-5 years) 11-13 hours
School-age Children (5-10 years) 10-11 hours
Adolescents (10-17 years) 8.5-9.5 hours
Adults including elderly 7-9 hours
What to do? Well its simple really, plenty of love and support, a healthy diet (as nutrition plays a vital role in a good night’s sleep- we got this covered in our next post entitled ‘Top Reasons to Help your Children Sleep Better’), a calm, friendly and familiar children’s bedroom environment to sleep in and your child will get the sleep they need!