“Awww Mummy, can I stay up for a little longer, pleeease?” How often have you heard your child say this and given in? After all, going to sleep an hour or so later won’t really hurt him. Or will it? According to the Health Promotion Board of Singapore (HPB), your child’s brain is hard at work facilitating memory, learning and problem-solving skills while he sleeps. A good night’s sleep helps him pay attention to his lessons at school, make decisions and be creative.
When our kids ask to stay up for just a little longer, we often give in. Find out why you shouldn’t be doing this.
So what happens when your child doesn’t get enough sleep? It results in sleep deprivation, a condition that occurs when a person just doesn’t get enough quality sleep. You’ll be surprised to know that its effects can be rather devastating on your child’s health and wellbeing.
There are some compelling reasons as to why you should be making sure your child gets enough sleep each night.
The link between sleep and your child’s health
Adequate sleep is essential for your child’s body to function optimally. It also supports his overall health in ways you would never imagine. We spoke to Dr Michael Lim, a Consultant at the Division of Paediatric Pulmonary and Sleep, National University Hospital (Singapore), to bring you more on the topic of sleep and children, including the effects of sleep deprivation.
Sleep and physical health
According to Dr Lim, adequate sleep is vital for repairing your child’s body and for the growth and development of the brain.
Here are a few more of the benefits that sleep has on your child’s physical health:
- Sleep is involved in healing and repairing your child’s heart and blood vessels. Lack of sleep could contribute to the risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure and diabetes in a child’s adult years.
- Sleep helps your child maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make him feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When your child doesn’t get enough sleep, it will result in him feeling hungrier than when he has had adequate sleep, and could contribute to future food-related issues such as obesity.
- It supports your child’s healthy growth and development. When your child is in deep sleep, a hormone is released that not only promotes the growth of his body, but also boosts muscle mass and assists in the repair of cells and tissue.
- Sleep helps your child’s immune system stay healthy. Sleep deficiency can have a negative impact on how a person’s immune system responds.
If your child gets the required amount of sleep each night for her age, you can be sure she’ll be performing at her best at school each day.
In addition, Dr Lim explains that quality sleep helps children remember what they learned at school, organise their thoughts, react quickly and work efficiently both inside and outside the classroom.
How much sleep children need: a guide
“Newborns need the most amount of sleep but the variation is widest in this age group.”
Below is a guide to the approximate amount of sleep your child needs according to his age. You should keep in mind, though, that there are individual variations in both sleep needs and tolerance levels to inadequate sleep, explains Dr Lim.
- Newborns: Generally, newborn babies require an average of 13 to 14 ½ hours of sleep a day. Variation is widest in this age group, and can range from 10 to 19 hours. The average amount of sleep required goes down to about 12 to 14 hours total daily at one year of age (including naps).
- Toddlers: Little ones up to three years of age should be getting 11 to 13 hours of sleep per day on average. This could include daytime naps.
- Pre-schoolers: Between three to five years of age, children require about ten to 12 hours of sleep, and reduce the number of daytime naps to one or no naps at all.
- Primary-schoolers: School-aged children (six to 12 years) should average nine to ten hours of sleep each day.
Sleep deprivation in kids may lead to various behavioural problems.
What happens if your child doesn’t get enough sleep?
“The lack of sleep has negative effects on academic performance and motivation”, says Dr Lim. What’s more, there is also a higher risk of reporting depressive symptoms, anxiety and withdrawal in sleep-deprived children.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation brought about by even one less hour of sleep can have an impact on how well your primary-schooler does at school the next day. It immediately negatively affects his learning, memory, attention and concentration!
According to Dr Lim, sleep deprivation in kids can also have long term physical health consequences such as obesity. There is also an increased risk of development of Type 2 diabetes in obese teenagers.
Children who are sleep deprived may display the following behaviour and signs:
- Fatigue and daytime lethargy
- Slower at completing cognitive tasks
- Poor judgment
- Lack of motivation
- Poorer decision-making skills
- Daytime behaviour problems
- Academic problems – negative affect on higher level cognitive executive functions
Are Singaporean kids getting enough sleep?
According to a survey conducted by The Pillow Police, a social campaign aiming to educate Singaporean parents on the dangers of child sleep deprivation, Singaporean kids are not getting enough sleep.
Dr Lim explains that sleep deprivation is particularly prevalent among Singaporean kids of all ages. However, there is increasing evidence that younger children in Singapore are not getting sufficient sleep, which is quite alarming. This is due to:
- A lack of awareness among parents on the optimal sleep duration for their child
- A lack of parental monitoring or rules about bedtime, including the use of TV/smart phones and tablets before bedtime which affects sleep onset and quality
- The amount of homework and extra curricular activities/tuition that eat into precious sleeping hours in older children
You can read about the Pillow Police’s study and the results here.
Establishing a bedtime routine is a great way of ensuring your child goes to sleep at the same time, every day.
Here’s how you can make sure your child gets enough sleep
Dr Lim gives some valuable tips on how to ensure your child gets quality sleep each night.
- With regards to the child’s sleep environment, keep the bedroom cool, quiet and dark to help the child go to sleep
- Keep computers and TVs out of the bedroom; ideally, keep electronic devices out of the child’s bedtime routine as it can interfere with sleep quality
- Establish a routine that helps your child relax before bedtime instead, such as some light reading
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible – be consistent with sleep and wake time daily (including weekends and holidays)
- Do not schedule daytime naps too late in the day
You can also read some great tips from The Pillow Police on ways to establish a good bedtime routine for your little one.
If you are worried about your child’s sleep patterns, it is recommended that you consult either a doctor trained in paediatric sleep medicine or a sleep psychologist who specialises in diagnosing and treating children’s sleep problems.
You may also contact:
National University Hospital (NUH Kids)
Paediatric Medicine, Pulmonology and Sleep Children’s Emergency Hotline: 6772 2555
Parents, let’s stop taking sleep for granted. Ensure your little ones get enough sleep — it could be life-changing.
How old is your child and how many hours of sleep does he get? Do share your little one’s bedtime routine and how you get him to sleep in a comment below.
Also READ: Mums need more sleep than dads, research suggests