Why Sleep is a Vital Part of a Kid’s Ability to Learn and Grow
It’s tough for anyone to function well without enough sleep. And although kids are resilient and seemingly endless sources of energy, even children can’t do well when they aren’t sleeping enough.Children need sleep to do and feel their best each day. Without enough sleep, they may struggle to develop, grow, learn, and be on their best behavior. But sleep gives children the healthy foundation they need to grow and learn each day.
How Sleep Helps Children
Children need sleep for brain health, memory, and mood regulation, just to name a few.
Sleep sets the stage for better behavior. Think about the last time you didn’t get enough sleep (maybe even today). How was your emotional state? Chances are, you feel less able to deal with frustration or maintain a good mood. It’s the same for children. They are more apt to overreact, throw tantrums, or engage in irritable or impulsive behavior when they don’t have enough sleep. But sleep can give kids the best foundation for a good mood each day.
Sleep supports learning, brain health, and memory. Children need sleep to make proper neurological connections.
Sleep is when our brains solidify memories and learning from the day. When they don’t sleep enough, children may struggle to remember everything they’ve spent their day learning. And that’s not just limited to rote memorization in school — learning is what children do all day, as they learn to walk, to socially interact with others, to follow your daily routines. Getting enough sleep makes it easier for children to digest what they’ve learned and retain it for later use.
Child Sleep Needs
Children aren’t wired differently than adults. Although some things affect them differently, ultimately they are just younger, smaller versions of adults, and they need sleep just like grownups do. However, they have greater sleep needs than we do.
The sleep needs of children will vary depending on their age, activity level, health, and other factors. In the newborn stage, babies sleep almost around the clock and more than half of their 24 hour day is spent sleeping. Preschoolers need about 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day, including any naps.
At school age, 10 to 12 hours per day is common. Teens will begin to shift closer to an adult sleep schedule, generally eight to 10 hours a day.
However, it’s not unusual for children to have increased sleep needs on occasion, even those that fall outside of the normal range for their age.
Children who have an especially high activity level during a certain time (such as participating in sports or even intensely studying for a test), or who are working through milestones like learning to roll over, walk, starting school, or going through puberty may need more sleep than usual to support their bodies as they grow.
As child sleep needs are always changing and can vary, it’s important to pay attention for cues that your child isn’t getting enough sleep. Children who nap excessively during the day may be catching up on too little sleep at night. If they’re struggling with grades, behavior, or just not acting like themselves, consider that the answer may be as easy as just getting more rest each night.
As a parent, it’s your job to support the needs of your child, and their sleep needs are a high priority. Give them enough time each night to sleep well, and make sure younger children get time to nap as well.
Ensure that they have a healthy and comfortable place to sleep each night. Practice good sleep hygiene, including a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine. If your child struggles to sleep even with healthy sleep habits, talk to your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder, and get treatment if needed.
This article is written by Sara Westgreen who is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.