As with adults, children’s sleep also varies from one to another, though some general rules apply to all of them. In fact, lots and lots of sleep is a basic part of a child’s growth and development. As kids grow and move on from their babyhood to the toddler stage and then to preschool, elementary school, middle and high school, their quantity and quality of sleep changes a lot. Despite this, the need for a lot of sleep continues to prevail for their still growing bodies and brains.
Though there’s no way of determining how much sleep a particular child needs, yet there are certain guidelines that can point you to a target range. Newborns and infants may need the most sleep, but by the time your little one is four years old and of school-going age, his sleep needs will undergo some amount of change, something you need to be prepared for.
Our Circadian Rhythms
Sleep is an integral part of human development. In fact, the brain’s basic activity in babyhood comprises sleep. Our sleep-wake cycle, better known as our Circadian rhythms, are governed by light and dark and these rhythms take a lot of time to set in, causing irregular sleep times of newborn babies.
At age six weeks, babies begin to develop these rhythms, and by the time they are about six months old, they fall into a regular cycle of sleep and wake. By age two years, children spend more time sleeping than awake, and overall, a child spends about 40% of his childhood in sleep. From this the importance of sleep in a child’s life is immediately apparent as it directly impacts his physical and mental growth.
States of Sleep: There are two alternating types or states of sleep:
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (Nrem): Also called “quiet” sleep, this refers to the deep states of sleep when blood supply to the muscles is on the increase, energy is replenished and growth and repair of tissues takes place. During this stage, the body also releases important hormones that are needed for the baby’s growth and development.
Rapid Eye Movement(Rem): This sleep state is also known as “active” sleep. In this stage, our brains remain active and we dream. Though our bodies are stationary, yet our heart rates and breathing remain irregular.
Babies spend half their time in each of these stages for a sleep cycle comprising 50 minutes. By the time they are six months old, their REM sleep is barely 30% of their total sleep. As they grow into preschoolers, their sleep cycle is every 90 minutes.
How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
How much sleep a particular child needs depends largely on him or her and certain factors specific to it, including his age. Here are some proven guidelines:
From Birth To Four Weeks: Babies sleep for about15-18 hours a day, usually in short batches of an average of three hours.Newborns do not have a biological clock or Circadian rhythm, so their sleep patterns are not in sync with day and night cycles nor do they follow any kind of pattern.
1-4 Months: By the time a baby is six weeks old, he learns to settle down into a regular sleep pattern. He now sleeps for about 18 hours a day, though not regularly. He spends about three hours a day awake. He may tend to sleep for about four to six hours at a stretch, particularly in the evening. While he sleeps, he tends to be active, sucking his thumb, apparently restless and twitching his legs and arms, and sometimes smiling.
4-12 Months Old: Infants up to 11 months often sleep 12 hours a day, often going up to 15 hours a day. Parents now try to establish good sleep habits for the baby since he is now social and his sleep patterns are just like his parents’.
At six months of age, babies typically have two naps during the day and can sleep right through the night. As his naps become more regular, his circadian rhythms also become more established. Babies sleep generally from 9 a.m. for an hour, and from 12 noon to 2 p.m., again for an hour or two. A late afternoon show often goes on from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
1-3 Years Old: As the baby grows into a toddler to being about 18-21 months old, he will nap only one a day. He now sleeps about 10 hours a day, though he may need up to12-14 hours a day. When he grows to be about 21-36 months old, he will need one nap per day, of about an hour to 3.5 hours long. Babies at this stage sleep between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and wakes between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.
3-6 Years Old: Children at this age continue to sleep between 7 pm and 9 pm and rise between 6 am and 8 am. They continue to nap, though not as long as before. They sleep for about 10-12 hours a day.
7-12 Years Old: Children of this age group are busy with school and other activities–social, school and family. This sets back their bedtime, with 12-year-olds usually sleeping not later than 9 pm. Children of this age group sleep beginning from 7.30 pm and going on till 10 pm, sleeping for nine to 12 hours.
12-18 Years Old: At this age, it is important for teens to sleep well for their health and to give their best performance at school. Many teens may need more sleep now than in earlier years. However, pressures at school prevent them from getting good and quality sleep, allowing children of this age group to sleep not more than eight or nine hours a day.
How Insufficient Sleep Affects Children
For optimal development of children, it is important that they sleep well at night. If children do not get adequate sleep regularly, they will be overweight or obese because they crave for and eat sugary foods all day that provides them with sufficient energy to remain awake.
If a child wakes up easily each morning and is alert and happy through the day, it means he gets adequate sleep. If children do not get enough sleep, they will come across as grumpy and irritable and will not be able to concentrate in class.