Goodnight, Sleep Tight

Getting enough sleep is important for your child’s development and well-being
By Tamlyn Vincent

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Does your toddler resist sleep, fighting to turn bedtime into playtime? How often do your children stay up late doing homework, or chatting to friends, only to struggle with waking up the following morning? Children need different amounts of sleep, depending on their age.

Michelle Baker, a clinical psychologist in Durban, says sleep establishes balance in our bodies and keeps us healthy. Memory is also consolidated during sleep, says Baker and “the activities of the day are filed into our memory banks”. It helps our body recuperate and store up physical and mental energy for the next day. Sleep also helps in other ways:
  • It promotes brain development, which stimulates learning, memory and concentration.
  • Sleep helps muscles, bones and skin grow. “During sleep growth occurs in cells to refresh and restore us” says Baker.
  • It boosts the immune system.
  • Sleep makes us less irritable and aggressive.
  • Lack of sleep affects our physical ability and may aggravate mental problems such as depression and anxiety. It has also been linked to obesity.
Babies and toddlers
Jacqui Flint, the owner of Baby Love, a company specialising in routine and sleep guidance for children four years and younger, says:
  • Babies and toddlers need 10-12 hours of sleep a night. Depending on their age, babies may wake up during the night, but at four months they are capable of sleeping through.
  • The amount of sleep babies and toddlers need during the day is determined by their age. Newborns will need more than a one or two year old.
  • If babies aren’t getting enough sleep they may be clingy, fussy at meal times, stiff, or cry continuously. Flint also says to look out for the “Duracell bunny mode”, when children are hyperactive or very alert.
  • Lack of sleep during the day can affect daytime feeding and nighttime sleeping. It can also affect growth, meaning that sometimes children don’t meet certain milestones. In the hyper-alert state, babies aren’t open to learning and stimulation. Babies and toddlers also don’t develop good sleep cycles.
  • Parents who don’t get enough sleep can’t function properly at home or work. This has an impact on how the family functions.
  • Flint suggests following a structured consistent routine for the whole day. A good bedtime routine is important, but is only part of the process. “Start off the way you want to end off,” says Flint. Don’t rock your baby to sleep and put her down before she is asleep, otherwise she won’t be able to fall asleep unassisted. If you need help, see a sleep consultant who can help you establish age-appropriate routines.
Sleep for older children and adults is also vital. Baker says that we need a core amount of “uninterrupted good quality sleep”. The amount will vary according to age.
Preschoolers, children and pre-teens
  • 10–12 hours of sleep are needed at night.
  • From the age of three to six, children will drop their daytime nap.
  • Keep to a set bedtime. It doesn’t help to keep children up later, hoping they will be more tired, or will sleep later in the morning.
  • As children get older, there will be more demands on their time, such as homework, extramural activities and friends. Despite this, a consistent bedtime should be kept so that children get enough sleep.
  • Children who don’t get enough sleep may be prone to irritability, hyperactivity, or concentration problems. Baker says children may struggle to wake up in the mornings, may lose their appetite or may eat more than normal. This may impact on their performance at school or at sport.
  • Baker says that when children stay up later during school holidays, their sleep patterns are disrupted and it can take up to a month to get back into a normal routine. 
  • Teenagers need between nine and 10 hours of sleep at night.
  • However, their increasingly busy routines may cut into this cycle. School schedules and social lives they are likely to get less sleep than what they need. This sleep deprivation accumulates during the week so that by the weekend, your teenager will be sleeping late to catch up.
  • While teenagers are going to be getting into bed later than younger children, it is still important to maintain a set bedtime.
  • Insufficient sleep can result in irritability, poor performance in school and bad behaviour.
  • Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep in a night.
  • The quality of your sleep is as important as the quantity. So late nights, stress and other disruptions can cause sleep deprivation.
  • A consistent bedtime and waking time are still advisable but it is also important to have some fun. Baker says “the body can catch up on sleep debt” if you indulge in the odd, late-night out.
  • Poor sleep means you can’t concentrate. It has also been associated with chronic illnesses and a higher mortality rate.
Getting some shuteye
Helpful ways to improve sleep habits:
  • Have a quiet time before bedtime. Make a soothing bath and reading part of the bedtime routine.
  • Avoid food and drinks that have caffeine or sugar in them, such as coffee or chocolate. Limit how much water you drink before bedtime to avoid unnecessary trips to the toilet.
  • Beds should be used for sleeping, not for homework or playing.
  • Electronics in the bedroom don’t encourage sleep. TVs, computers and even phones, should be removed from bedrooms, or at least switched off. Don’t let children sit with their cellphones in bed, as this will encourage text messaging or posting on Facebook, instead of sleeping.
  • Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark and comfortable. 


Shanda wrote 7 years 33 weeks ago

I am really struggling with my darling little boy and getting him to sleep. He is now 8 months old and I have tried every kind of sleep training method I know of. He cannot fall asleep on his own at night and he also wakes up every 2 hours and cannot put himself back to sleep. I end up having to pick him up. He is well fed during the day and has a few naps during the day. His health is in good order and he is also not too active before going to bed. His routine is the same every evening. I am not sure what else to do - as I know this is not good for him. PLEASE HELP.

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