Here's the article my mother, Lyn van Lidth de Jeude, wrote for her preschool's newsletter, this month (download the newsletter, here).
Preschool children typically sleep 11 to 13 hours in every 24 hour period. After 5 years of age most children have given up napping, but the amount of sleep they require remains the same. The preschool years are a peak period for Night Terrors, Nightmares and Sleep Walking. Sleep is vital to your child’s good health, yet many children resist going to bed.
Children who get adequate sleep are:
- more alert
- better able to learn
- less prone to obesity
- less accident prone
- more cheerful
- wake spontaneously feeling refreshedChildren who get inadequate sleep may:
- be more susceptible to infection
- have rapid mood swings
- have impulsive behaviour
- appear “wired”
- be hard to wake up
- be too sleepy to eat breakfast
Normal sleep patterns alternate between two states:Deep (or delta-wave) sleep: is characterized by a drop in body temperature and physical stillness. Children in deep sleep are usually difficult to arouse. During deep sleep blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur and important hormones are released for growth and development.
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep: is the period in which we dream. These periods occur three to six times a night and range from five to twenty minutes in length. Children in REM sleep may have irregular breathing and heart rates. They often move around, twitching their arms and legs, smiling, sucking and generally appear restless. Virtually all dreaming occurs during REM sleep.
Why do Children Resist Going to Sleep?In Canadian Living magazine, Christine Langlois, suggests one reason may be that when children are alone in the dark they confront their fears. To prevent this confrontation, a child may choose bedtime to pick a battle with a sibling or stall by requesting a glass of water. They may ask you to check the closet for monsters when it’s their inner fears that they really want you to keep in check.
A child may mention an important issue that is troubling her at bedtime just because that is when she remembers it. Although bedtime may seem like the right time to sit by your child and discuss her concerns, she is probably too tired to participate in a productive conversation. Be sure to make time with her during the day when she is better able to fully share the experience and discuss what may be troubling her.
Bedtime RoutinesRoutines serve an important purpose in slowing down the pace and allowing the child to mentally prepare for sleep. For a preschool child, limiting the routine to a bath, a story and a good night snuggle is perfect. The whole routine should last no longer than half an hour.
Children may have difficulty falling asleep for a number of reasons, but the most common cause is being overtired. You might expect that a child who has missed a nap may sleep like a log, but an exhausted child is more likely to have difficulty falling asleep and, if prone to it, may experience night terrors or walk in his sleep. You can usually anticipate sleep problems at times of change (e.g. Just before a family trip, after the birth of a new sibling or when a parent is ill).
Night TerrorsNight terrors are a common symptom of too little sleep. They usually occur one to four hours after the child has fallen asleep, when the child partially awakens from a period of deep sleep. She may scream, sit up, grind her teeth, open her eyes and look through you rather than at you.
After a few minutes, she’ll lay back down and go back to sleep. Usually you can’t wake the child and, that’s a good thing, as it will only aggravate her further. If you can gently guide your child back under the covers, she’ll go back to sleep and, in the morning, she won’t remember a thing.
NightmaresNightmares are very different fromnight terrors. They are usually an indication of emotional conflict and occur during REM sleep. A child who is crying and calling out after a bad dream is awake. She will need your full assurance and support because she is genuinely frightened. You can help her best by showing that you are in control and that she is safe.
Sleep WalkingLike night terrors, sleep walking usually occurs during deep sleep, one to four hours after falling asleep. If you try to talk to your child, he usually won’t answer or if he does his speech may be garbled. When children sleep walk they may try to do familiar tasks such as eating, brushing teeth or urinating, but because they are confused, they may not do these things in an appropriate place. The most important thing you can do for a sleepwalking child is to keep him safe. Keep outside doors and windows closed and locked and consider a gate across a stairway. The Canadian Sleep Society recommends attaching a bell to the child’s door to alert you to any nocturnal wandering.
Nighttime RoutinesChildren respond best to regular routines.Keeping your child’s bedtime consistent is the best assurance of a good nights sleep.If your child has difficulty waking up in the morning or is too sleepy to eat breakfast consider moving bedtime earlier in 15 minute increments until you accommodate her needs.
The May 2010 issue of National Geographic published a very interesting article by D.T. Max titled The Secrets of Sleep. One shocking statistic stated that only 1 in 5 teenagers get the optimal hours of sleep on school nights. A good night’s sleep results in better grades, better attitude and better overall health. We can support these goals by cultivating good sleep habits in the early years.