Healthy Sleep
Email Header
Full Image
November 2022

You signed your child up for soccer to keep them active, made time for long bedtime reading sessions, and filled afternoons with playdates. But did you know that raising a well-rounded child also includes ensuring they get enough sleep. A growing body of research shows that sufficient sleep is critical to a child‘s physical, cognitive, and emotional health.
With time and understanding of your child's sleep needs you can adopt routines and habits that promote restful sleep, build practical sleep schedules, and create soothing sleep environments for your child. 
Watch Video of Snapshot Here
Understanding Sleep
Sleep accounts for 1/4 to 1/3 of the human lifespan. But what exactly happens when you sleep? 
Throughout your time asleep, your brain will cycle repeatedly through two different types of sleep: REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. The time spent in REM sleep decreases and sleep cycles get longer as kids get older. By the time a child goes to school, a complete sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes.

The first part of the cycle is non-REM sleep, which is composed of four stages.
The first stage comes between being awake and falling asleep.
The second is light sleep, when heart rate and breathing regulate and body temperature drops.
The third and fourth stages are light REM and deep REM sleep. During REM sleep brain waves are similar to those during wakefulness. Breath rate increases and the body becomes temporarily paralyzed as we dream. 
REM sleep was previously believed to be the most important sleep phase for learning and memory, however newer data suggests that non-REM sleep is more important for these tasks, as well as being the more restful and restorative phase of sleep.
There are two main processes that regulate sleep: circadian rhythms and sleep drive.

Circadian rhythms are controlled by a biological clock located in the brain. One key function of this clock is responding to light cues, ramping up production of the hormone melatonin at night, then switching it off when it senses light.
Sleep drive also plays a key role. Your body craves sleep, much like it hungers for food. Throughout the day, your desire for sleep builds, and when it reaches a certain point, you need to sleep. A major difference between sleep and hunger is that your body can‘t force you to eat when you‘re hungry, but when you‘re tired, it can force you to sleep, even if you‘re in a meeting or behind the wheel of a car. When you‘re exhausted, your body is even able to engage in microsleep episodes of one or two seconds while your eyes are open.  
How Sleep Helps Your Child Grow
Let's take a look at all the amazing processes that occur while your child sleeps!
Store information. Sleep is prime time for the brain to transform learned material. Your child sorts through all the information from the day, gets rid of what they don't need, and keeps what they do. During the sleep stages the brain cells involved in learning get reactivated and facilitate the growth of new neural connections, which helps long-term memories form.
Physical growth. If your child wakes you because of pains in their legs, they are likely growing right before your eyes! Researchers have reason to believe that the growth plates in legs don‘t move much during the day but at night, when pressure of the body weight is no longer a factor, growth plates spring open.

Bond with family and friends. Dreams are designed, in part, to help us successfully navigate life. Children certainly dream about their family members, and researchers believe that those dreams promote positive emotional interactions when they‘re awake. 

Keep appetite on track. When kids (and adults) get adequate sleep, it helps to balance the hormone that tells us to eat (ghrelin) with the one that signals us to stop (leptin). Ghrelin and leptin are secreted when we sleep. With insufficient sleep, ghrelin levels are higher, leptin levels are lower, and your body tells you to eat more than it normally would. 
Strong heart. Sleep appears to protect children from heart-disease risk factors. The mechanism is not well understood, but research suggests that shorter sleep duration increases inflammation which contributes to high blood pressure and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Immune system recharges.  At night, your child‘s brain releases chemicals that support immune system repair. These include cytokines that send immune cells to areas of infection or inflammation. Shorter sleep time has also been linked to higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can get in the way of healing.
Calm down. Research shows that sleep-deficient youngsters have more problems getting along with others and are more prone to anger, frustration, and temper tantrums. 

This is because the two areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotions—the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex—are very sensitive to sleep deprivation. These regions interact during sleep and help your child process and understand any negative emotions that they experienced during the day such as fear or anxiety. This results in a child who is consistently better able to regulate emotions.
yd2 yd2
Supporting Healthy Sleep Habits
Sleep needs change as your child grows older, but whether you‘re dealing with a 2-year-old toddler or a stubborn teenager, research shows that a consistent bedtime routine is helpful for making sure your child gets enough sleep. Whatever activities you choose, try to do the same ones every day in the same order so your child knows what to expect.
Full Image

A regular bedtime routine starting around the same time each night encourages good sleep patterns. A routine of bath, story and bed can help younger children feel ready for sleep. For older children, the routine might include a quiet chat with you about the day then some time alone relaxing before lights out.
Relax before bedtime. Older children might like to wind down by reading a book, listening to gentle music or practicing breathing for relaxation. If your child takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, they might need a longer wind-down time. 

Keep your child‘s bedtimes and wake-up times within 1-2 hours of each other, each day. This helps to keep your child‘s body clock in a regular pattern. It‘s a good idea for weekends and holidays, as well as school days.
Check whether your child‘s bedroom is too light or noisy for sleep. Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets suppress melatonin levels and delays sleepiness. It helps to turn off devices at least one hour before bedtime and keep screens out of your child‘s room at night.

Avoid caffeine in energy drinks, chocolate and cola in the late afternoon and evening.
Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. Bright light suppresses melatonin. This helps your child feel awake and alert during the day and sleepy towards bedtime.

Helping Children with Bedtime Anxiety
The relationship between anxiety and sleep is a complicated one. Sleep strengthens the brain against anxiety, but anxiety at bedtime stops sleep. Anxious thoughts will intrude at bedtime when the world is still, and bodies are still, and when young minds are meant to be still – but – a lack of sleep will make anxiety worse, which will make sleep the next night tougher, which will make anxiety worse.
The part of the brain most sensitive to a lack of sleep is the amygdala – the seat of anxiety. When the brain is tired, the amygdala will be more likely to read non-threats as threats and ready the body for fight or flight. This fuels the physical symptoms of anxiety, which will fuel anxious thoughts – ’I feel like something bad is going to happen, so something bad must be going to happen.‘ This will then fuel anxious behaviour – fight (aggression, anger) or flight (avoidance)...

Parents You Are There!

There‘s no amount of kale chips, coding apps, home baked cookies, no toy expensive enough, no birthday party perfect enough, to replace you. Even on your worst day.

Ninety per cent of parenting is being there for your children and you are there. So, good for you. You‘re doing a great job!

We Want to Hear from You!
Do you enjoy the monthly Snapshots? 

Do you have suggestions on how to improve the Snapshots?

Do you have ideas for future topics?

Let us know!
We would love to hear from you!

Resources and Sources

Previous Snapshots
Full Image