Nowadays parents are beset with many concerns regarding their child’s well-being. The world is full of activities encompassing all ages. Everyone is so busy nowadays. Even babies are not spared from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Rest is an uncommon word for the young people these days. Twenty four hours seem to be insufficient for all the tasks that they have to accomplish at the end of the day. Hence you may often hear comments from students such as “I haven’t slept a wink” or “I slept only for 3 hours just to finish my project”. Thus a common question of parents is whether these young people are getting enough sleep or not.
What is sleep? Sleep is an active process during which the brain is involved in a variety of activities which are as complex as during the waking hours. Normal sleep has two distinct states, the rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Rapid eye movement sleeps develop when the baby is around 29 weeks of gestation inside the mother’s womb and it persists throughout life. It is an active, lighter stage of sleep that occurs in association with rapid eye movements. During this type of sleep the muscles are relaxed, the pulse and breathing are fast and irregular and body twitches maybe noted. It is during this time when one may experience dreams. Non-rapid eye movement sleep begins when the baby is about 32-35 weeks inside the mother’s womb.
The REM and NREM sleep comprise the sleep cycle. The deepest sleep occurs during the first several hours of the night with lighter stages of NREM sleep and REM sleep taking place mostly for the rest of the night. There are several differences between the onset and the length of REM and NREM of infants and adults although they have the same sleep stages. The sleep cycle is shorter in infants (50-60 minutes) as compared to adults (90-100 minutes). Full term newborns spend around 50% of their total sleep time in REM sleep (prematures up to 80%). When they reach 3 years of age this decrease to 30% and when they become adults it goes down to 20%. Lastly, the infants enters the first REM cycle right after falling asleep while it takes about 90 minutes before adults can do so. That is why newborns just sleep any time all through the day and night. When the baby reaches four months of age, he may sleep around 6-8 hours at night and at 6 months about 10-12 hours. AT 9 months old, some babies may still wake up once at night.
School-aged children need to sleep around 9-12 hours at night. However because of schoolwork, extra-curricular activities and exposure to TV and gadgets, this is the time when the children become sleep deprived. The National Sleep Foundation found out in a study that American kids do not get enough sleep. One reason is because of the intake of caffeine contained in a favorite drink –soda. Another reason is because of prolonged television viewing which cuts their sleep by 2 hours. More than 4 out of 10 American children have televisions inside their bedroom. Video games, DVD players, smart phones and other gadgets also augment to their late night culture. Unfortunately, Filipino children do not lag behind in that aspect. Parents will need to figure out how much sleep their children need. Some indicators of ample sleep would be their ability to go to bed and fall asleep easily.
The University of Michigan Health System have some tips for parents on how to teach children good sleep habits.
- Make bedtime a special time
- Put some thought into finding your child
- Keep a regular daily routine
- Use a simple, regular bedtime routine
- Make sure the sleep routines can be used anywhere
- Use “white noise” e.g. vaporizer, running fan to distract from other sounds
- Use light to signal the brain into the right sleep-wake cycle
- Never soothe child to sleep using a bottle of juice, milk or formula to avoid tooth decay
- Don’t fill child’s bed with toys to avoid distraction and suffocation
- Never use sending the child to bed as a threat or punishment
- Don’t give caffeine-laden foods and drinks before bedtime
- Don’t let them watch TV at bedtime
- Remove the TV in a child’s bedroom
It is vital that infants, children and adolescents get enough sleep. When they are sleep-deprived, their actions can be wrongly interpreted as “behavior problems”. Due to lack of sleep, they may have trouble controlling emotions.