As adults we know how poorly we function when we don’t have enough sleep. (Remember those sleepless nights as a parent of a newborn baby and how you would have done anything for some much-needed shut-eye?). The same is true for babies and young children. Sleep is a vital building block in children’s development. It plays a critical role in building brain connections.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep has a restorative function on the brain. It allows the brain to process information it has encountered throughout the day, growth hormones are released, memories are consolidated and unnecessary memories are dumped. Sleep is essential for learning. During wakeful periods, it is too onerous for the brain to take in the flood of new experiences and make sense of them at the same time. Instead, our brains shut out new input and sorts through what they have seen and experienced during sleep.
A recent study showed that even mild sleep deprivation (one hour less sleep a night) can impair children’s cognitive functioning, in particular their language skills.
US studies have found that children are sleeping on average 30 minutes less today than they were 20 years ago. This is alarming given that research has found a loss of just one hour’s sleep a night for primary school children is the equivalent to reducing their cognitive ability by 2 years. Therefore, a Year 4 student deprived of one hour of sleep nightly will, unfortunately, perform at the same level as a Year 2 student.
How much do they need?
The following guidelines provide an indication of suggested ranges of sleep for each age range. It is important to note that there is a huge variation in how much sleep each individual child or adult needs.
Newborns to 2 months- 12-18 hours
Infants- 14-15 hours
Toddlers 12-14 hours
Preschoolers 11-13 hours
Primary school children- 10- 11 hours
Pre-teens and teens- 8.5-10 hours
Adults- 7.5-9 hours
Children need so much sleep because they have so much to learn. Therefore, it is critical that we teach children why sleep is vital and model effective sleeping practices ourself. This is even more critical in a digital age as there are so many devices and gadgets competing for our attention and impacting on our sleep. Read more about sleep in a digital age here.