What impact does sleep have on a child’s overall development and mental well-being?

Sleeping is a crucial health activity that benefits both adults as well as children, even though the amount of sleep varies depending on a person’s age.

Dr Himani Narula, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and director and co-founder of Continua Kids says the transition from newborn to childhood and then to adulthood is an important time period for brain development. “Sleep is one of the primary activities of the brain during these years of development which is significant for their thinking, reasoning, problem solving abilities, psychosocial development and emotional regulation.”

What is sleep?

Narula explains it as “a reversible behavioral state with reduced physical activity and decreased interaction with the external environment”. It has three functional states: non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and wakefulness; Each pattern has a specific brain electrical activity.

Sleep duration

According to her, infants are recommended approximately 12 to 18 hours of sleep per day, which reduces in toddler years to approximately 9 to 16 hours per day and by preschool years a child is recommended to sleep for at least 8 to 14 hours per day.

Positive sleep practices

There is something called ‘sleep hygiene’, which is essential for establishing healthy sleep patterns.

1. Regular and consistent bedtime routine: A bedtime routine involving 3 to 4 calming and relaxing activities every night like a warm water bath, reading stories, singing lullabies or listening to soft music can help.

2. Safe and comfortable sleep environment: It helps to promote good quantity and quality of sleep.

3. Sleep onset associations: Problematic sleep onset associations like rocking or feeding have shown to make children vulnerable to night-time waking, it is recommended to allow the infant or toddler to fall asleep independently.

4. Screen and media exposure: Excessive screen and media viewing is widely reported in young children, which can negatively impact their sleep duration and quality. All screen devices such as smartphones, iPads, desktops, laptops, and televisions interfere with the relaxed state for sleep initiation and suppress the melatonin surge, thereby disturbing the sleep-wake cycle.

5. Regular daily physical activity schedule: It must be encouraged as it helps in regulating the internal clock and synchronizes the day with the sleep-wake cycle.

“A good night’s sleep and some daytime naps are directly related to memory performance. Research has proven that inadequate sleep leads to more negative emotions. It is known to impact the next day’s mood, thereby reducing the emotional coping ability. Sleeping is important for general cognitive and language development in infants and toddlers. A good sleep cycle helps children to concentrate on tasks for longer, have better problem-solving abilities, and the ability to learn and remember things,” the expert says, adding that for kids who may have a medical reason to wake up at night — for example, to use the washroom, or experiencing bedwettinghaving nightmares sleep-walking, snoring or having pauses in breathing — can seek medical advice.

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