How much sleep is enough for your child?

By Malini Singh
Image by Arun kumar from Pixabay

Research shows that there are differences between cultures in sleep times. For example, young children in many Asian countries have bed times from 8.30pm to 10.30pm. This is common in Hong Kong, the Indian subcontinent, and families from migrant families here in Australia. If there are any late night shopping and public events, one can see a host of children from different late night cultures enjoying the evening.

A study of parents of 28,287 infants and toddlers in 17 countries found vast cultural differences in bedtimes, total sleep and parents’ perceptions of sleep problems among their children. Overall, children from Asian countries had the latest bedtimes. Parents in Asian countries tuck children in around 9.30pm on average, while 8.30pm is bedtime in the US. In other western countries it is 7.30pm.

This raises the important question about how much sleep young children need. Around 50% of a child’s life is spent sleeping. About 10-12 hours is recommended for young children. Toddlers can have day-time naps, as well. When children do not get enough sleep they can show signs of several problems. We need to ask about night-time routines, as it provides a guide for what can be happening in the day time.  So, how can good sleeping help a child?

Poor sleep or not enough sleep affects concentration, memory and behaviour, making it harder for your child to learn.

Good-quality sleep helps your child concentrate and this can help the brain to take in information and become good at learning. Children who don’t sleep well are more likely to feel sleepy in the day and have difficulties with learning.  All reason for this is that to learn and consolidate information, you have to pay attention to what you are learning in the first place.

It is common for children to have a sleep difficulty at some point. Some sleep issues get better on their own, as children grow older and their sleep cycles regulate

Poor concentration affects the learning process right when the information is being taken in, and so if poorly filtered information is taken in, much like a puzzle with a few pieces missing, we cannot expect to learn from that information and make all the connections. Hence, the next step which is remembering or recalling information and a very important part of learning. Poor sleep leads to lots of problems with memory and recall, as we may all experience as adults. The growing and developing brain of a small child, finds it much harder.

The last stages of sleep take place just before a child wakes up in the morning.  In this stage of sleep, memories are sorted and stored and used the next day.  When there is poor sleep this process goes haywire and makes learning difficult on an ongoing basis.  And there is no parent who has not gone through the indignity and humility of the “tantrum” and “meltdown” of their sleepy or tired toddler in the most public of places. Tiredness and lack of sleep will lead to the inevitable lack of cooperation, hyperactive overtired behaviour before sleep and poor emotional control.

Sleep is a very important part of every child’s development. It is common for children to have a sleep difficulty at some point. Some sleep issues get better on their own, as children grow older and their sleep cycles regulate. However, for many toddlers sleep clinics can help with settling and finding a routine for the body to regulate itself.

Establishing a good routine helps a child to before bedtime can be very calming and relaxing for your child and they may look forward to their bath, story, music, and bed ritual. This helps them to slow down and prepare to sleep.

Look out for your own sanity as a parent. A baby’s sleeping problem can have a big impact on your sleep and own functioning.  So, rock a bye-baby and sweet dreams to all.

The author is a psychologist at Change for Life

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