News & Views

Sleep in children- Why is it so important?

By Zach Pearl, PhD Staff


Sleep is an important component of health; it is essential to grow, restore our body and the immune system and to enhance learning and memory consolidation 1 . Sleep helps children focus and remember what has been learned and is also vital for their physical and mental health. Therefore it is critical for parents to help their children develop good sleep habits at an early age. Here are the consequences of child’s poor sleep.

During sleep the human growth hormone (GH) is secreted by the pituitary gland (a gland located at the base of the brain). In children, the majority of GH release occurs shortly after deep sleep 2 begins. The GH has important roles in training and recovery. GH stimulates and coordinates the growth of all body organs from bones and muscles to nerves. In addition to promoting growth in childhood, the hormone helps maintain healthy bodily-tissue during adulthood. Deep, non-REM sleep that occurs early in the night seems to be especially important for GH secretion.

If this sleep phase is disrupted, growth may not occur normally. While a single night of poor sleep will probably not impact child’s growth, but chronic sleep problems in young children do. A study showed that children with growth hormone deficiency, experienced substantially less sleep and lower quality of sleep, compared to children with normal level of growth hormone 3 .

Another hormone that can be affected by chronic sleep deprivation in young children is an insulin hormone. One of its roles is to regulate hunger and appetite. Young children who do not get sufficient sleep for long periods of time have abnormally low levels of insulin. It is known that low insulin levels can lead to diabetes and weight management problems. Studies show that children who do not get enough sleep are at significantly higher risk of obesity, compared to children who get sufficient sleep 4 5 .

The cortisol hormone (stress hormone) can also be affected by chronic sleep problems. Children with deprived sleep usually have high blood cortisol levels consequenting in high level of stress. Insufficient sleep or non-restorative sleep in young children, can affect motor and concentration skills during the day, and can lead to behavioral problems and poor performance at school.

The most common reasons for sleep difficulties in healthy children are environmental and inappropriate sleep routine. Here are some tips that will help your child have a good night sleep:

  • Establish a consistent bedtime for your children and stick to it. School-age children should be in bed by 8 to 9 p.m. (earlier for the youngest grades and those who need a lot of sleep)
  • Make sure your child is sleeping in an adequate environment; if it is too noisy, too cold or too hot, this can disrupt sleep
  • Set up a good bedtime routine, which helps signal your child’s body that it is time to sleep. This may include a bath, reading a bedtime story, and talking or singing softly while tucking them in
  • Avoid stimulating activity before bedtime
  • Electronic devices have negative effects on sleep. Be aware of how your child uses media devices in the bedroom and set boundaries for use before bedtime
  • Replace watching TV, playing video games or internet browsing before bedtime, with book reading or soothing music

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