Setting good sleep patterns imperative for your child’s health

Regular bedtimes and plenty of good sleep are important for your child’s development. Here’s how to help them sleep well.

If bedtime is a battleground and your tot or teenager is reluctant to go to sleep, persist in your efforts to help them get settled.

Inadequate sleep can lead to a range of problems, from difficulties concentrating in the classroom and moodiness to weight gain.

Government statistics show about one in four Australian children between the ages of two and 16 are overweight or obese.

While diet and a lack of exercise are partly to blame, lack of sleep is also part of the problem.

Research shows link between inadequate sleep and weight gain

Research shows a strong link between inadequate and poor quality sleep and excess weight, according to Professor John Dixon, head of clinical obesity research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

“We need to start good sleep patterns in the pre-school years because if you put on weight in primary school or secondary school, you’re likely to have a weight problem for life,” Professor Dixon says.

“We’re programmed to function and eat during daylight hours, and night hours are for sleeping. When we distort that pattern, we change our physiology and shift it towards putting on weight. Children need a bedtime routine. TVs and other electronic devices must be kept out of the bedroom so children enjoy uninterrupted sleep.”

Sarah Biggs, a paediatric sleep researcher at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, says sleep is also the time when growth hormones are released. Lack of sleep can distort hormone production, including the appetite-control hormones, leptin and ghrelin, that contribute to weight gain.

“Children need sleep to reach their potential,” Sarah says. “Sleep also has a very strong association with emotional wellbeing, and children who are not getting enough sleep become overactive and oppositional. They become cranky, hard to handle and hyperactive. But in adolescence, lack of sleep is more likely to lead to moodiness and withdrawal.”

Not surprisingly, poor sleep is linked to poorer academic performance.

“Sleep is involved in memory consolidation — poor sleep means memories aren’t stored, particularly the memories about facts that children learn at school,” she says.

How to help your child get good sleep

  • Stick to a routine. Children need to go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Turn off the TV 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Have a set routine, such as bath, brushing the teeth and reading a book.
  • Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom.
  • Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature and dark; only use a night-light if needed.

Children are not the only ones that need good sleep at night – adults do too! Find out how you can harness the power of a good night’s sleep.