The importance of sleep for your child’s development

Experts agree that sleep, along with a loving environment, nutrition and education, is hugely important to raising healthy and well-adjusted children.

Research shows that sleep deprivation can be a major problem to a growing child – potentially affecting brain development, as well as their ability to learn at school and general behavior.

Sleep Medicine Consultant Dr Mark Levi says it’s important to understand that children’s sleep patterns are very different from ours.

“From infancy to adulthood their Circadian Rhythm Cycle, their body clock, keeps changing,” he explains. “A child’s sleep cycle is about 50 minutes, not 90 minutes like adults. This means they’re in light deep sleep (REM) on average every 50 minutes, so can be easily disturbed.”

“As your child’s sleeping patterns keep changing they’ll want to go to bed later and sleep in longer. This is made worse if they’re plugged into late night movies or catching up on favourite shows or social media. It can make it very confronting to get them to sleep!

“In means they’re still tired when they have to go to school and so can be grumpy and inattentive.”

With 50 per cent of children’s sleep time spent in dream and memory-boosting REM sleep, as opposed to the 15 per cent experienced by adults, kids who don’t get enough sleep miss out on the memory consolidation that happens during REM sleep.

“Research in the USA shows kids perform 25 per cent better in class when they start an hour later,” Dr Levi says.

“I’d advise setting a regular bedtime and sticking to it! If you change a child’s sleep pattern you will improve their ability to learn and function at maximum capacity.”

Another thing to remember, he says, is that children don’t snore. This only occurs in kids who are sleeping with blocked airways.

“There’s a growing school of thought that says if your child is hyperactive at school and has behavioural issues or is learning poorly, then it’s worth having an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist check out how crowded their airway is.

“A narrowed airway doesn’t allow enough oxygen into the lungs, especially at night when children are lying flat, and may mean they wake more often during the night.

“Scientists have shown that in these cases, the removal of excess tonsil or adenoid tissue can turn the worst pupil into the best in the class.”

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.