I am concerned about baby and children’s sleep as it relates to their behavior and intellectual development. Since we all want smarter, healthier children, sleep is far more important than what milk we feed them or which vitamin is touted to give them the edge.
I read some articles based on the UK Millennium Cohort Study. They are studying 11,000 children born in 2000 and will follow them through adulthood. There were some interesting facts to emerge from the study.
The children were evaluated at 9 months, 3, 5, and 7 years with parental questionnaires and in-home studies. The questions about the children’s sleep related to whether they had a regular bedtime and whether they slept before 9 pm. They did not report how many hours their children slept, however.
The results of standardized tests in math, reading and spatial abilities when they were 7 years old showed a definite difference between children with a regular bedtime and those with none. Children with consistent bedtimes throughout their early years showed better performance across all subject areas, while children with irregular bedtimes had lower test scores on all subjects.
We know from other studies that the brain is subject to change — especially when it’s laying down nerve tracks and making new connections in early childhood. The key to keeping the brain in this adaptable state is sleep. Reduced or disrupted sleep, especially if it occurs at key times in development, could have important impacts throughout life.
The link between lack of sleep and a child’s behavior often isn’t as obvious as with adults. We can mistake lots of energy for being well-rested. Instead of being sluggish and grumpy like an adult, kids often become hyper or have extremes in their behavior when they don’t get enough sleep.
Although there are an average number of hours babies and children should sleep, each child has their own optimum. You may have to experiment to find the best pattern for your child.
Some ways to see if your child should sleep earlier or longer can be seen by their behavior. If your child’s eyes start looking droopy or glazed over, you should probably be putting him to bed. Fighting to stay awake past that slow down will usually result in hyperactivity or misbehavior and a much harder time settling down to sleep. Then when your child wakes in the morning after enough sleep he or she will wake easily and be ready to get dressed and eat and get on with the day. If your child keeps trying to go back to sleep or resists getting dressed or eating, they may need more sleep.
Sleep deprivation adds up over time, so an hour less per night is like a night without sleep by the end of the week. Symptoms of insufficient sleep can lead to decreased attentiveness, decreased short-term memory, inconsistent performance, and delayed response time.
So here are the average number of hours of sleep for different ages:
Babies up to 6 months need 16-20 hours, roughly divided equally between night and day.
6-12 months need 3 hours in the day and 9-11 hours at night.
Preschoolers to 12 years need 10-12 hours at night.
I know for some of you, you see this as an impossible dream. But with science and experience to back it up, we should be doing all we can to make enough good sleep for our children one of our goals. Think about solutions that will give your children more uninterrupted sleep. If you make some changes that work, I’d like to hear from you: Diane