A recent study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that children who had a relatively short duration of sleep are susceptible to behavioural problems and issues with aggression.
In this study Dr. Rebecca Scharf, with the University of Virginia, studied nearly 9,000 pre-school aged children and found that those children who had less than nine hours of sleep per night were more likely to show impulsiveness, aggression, hyperactivity and tantrums when compared to their peers who had more sleep.
This suggests that a consistent duration of sleep is paramount in the child’s health and normal development.
I’m sure this comes as no surprise to most of you, but this is the first study of this size that has demonstrated a true correlation between sleep duration and mental well-being and our children.
In her study, Scharf stated that “reduced or disrupted sleep, especially if it occurs at key times in development, could have an important impact on health throughout life.”
She found that the average bedtime for children was approximately 8:30 p.m. with the child waking at 7:15 a.m..
Interestingly enough, the study also demonstrated that boys who watched more than two hours of television per night had worse overall behaviour scores than the other subgroups.
Developmental physiology outlines the importance of children having enough sleep.
It is estimated that young children enter the REM phase of sleep and will remain there for up to 80 per cent of their sleeping hours.
It is during this phase that growth hormone is secreted from the anterior pituitary gland, facilitating normal growth.
Adults, conversely, will only spend approximately 20 per cent of their sleeping hours in the REM phase of sleep.
It is interesting that many nations around the world do not start their school hours until about 9 a.m. in recognition of the importance of sleep for these young, developing minds and bodies.
Is it any wonder why our teenagers always feel the need to sleep in during their most pronounced growth spurts?
The importance of sleep can carry over to us adults as well.
We have a saying in our house with respect to my wife if she does not get enough sleep.
My six-year-old came up with it first: “Don’t poke the bear.”
However, I do think this model is most important for children.
The matter of sleep hygiene with children is most important.
It should include a series of events such as picking out your pajamas, grabbing your favourite teddy bear, reading a book or singing a song and then quiet time just before going to bed. It should not be simply, “Go to bed.”
After all, their sleeping hours are just as important to their development as are their waking hours.
We have all had a tired child and that in itself sometimes is the best method of birth control.