Sleep: What do our Children Need?

Parents often tell me how stressful bedtime is. They talk about the difficulties they have getting their children to bed, about their children who have trouble falling asleep or about children whom they just can’t get up in the morning.

In spite of our best intentions, we can find ourselves muddling on for ages, trying to get sleep right for our children.

In the next 2 blogs I’d like to share with you information and advice I could have done with myself when my children were growing up.

Today we start with the nuts and bolts we need to understand why sleep is not a luxury.

Sleep matters. How much we sleep as well as the balance between the deep sleep and the REM sleep, when we dream.

The right amount of quality sleep improves everything, from your looks to your mood and performance.

NOW is the time to educate yourself on sleep and why it matters.

Join Ariana Huffington in taking sleep seriously and making it the central non-negotiable factor of every day. Don’t wait to keel over first, like she did when she fell over in her office from exhaustion, breaking her cheekbone on the way.

Nature designed sleep to keep us healthy and sane. We cannot override nature or we will suffer.

Deep Sleep

Simply put we need the right amount of deep sleep for our physical body to restore itself, sort out blood sugar levels, raise the immune system and so on.

Without it, our bodies have to work against all odds – we wake up achy, pick up colds and can even develop diabetes in the long run.

REM Sleep – when we dream

A good night’s sleep consists of 25% dream sleep. During this time our brain is in REM (Rapid Eye Movement , the term refers to what the eyes are doing), a very active state of mind taking up a lot of energy.

The function of dreams is to de-activate or de-arouse any emotional stuff from the previous day which has not yet been acted upon or neutralised. Think of it as a head full of mini engines, all still revving away without getting anywhere. The function of dreams is to turn off all those engines. Ideally it will have gone quiet in the garage when you wake up.

Too much sleep is as bad as too little sleep

A good night’s sleep goes through a number of different cycles. Waking up from time to time can also be part of a healthy sleep, and need not be something to worry about. We do all though, have an average length of sleep that serves us well. For most people that is 8-hours.

Less than that simply doesn’t allow our minds and bodies to be regenerated and fresh for a new day. So we start making mistakes, lose focus and motivation, or become grumpy.

Too much sleep also leads to depression. If our problems seem insurmountable and we worry too much, the REM sleep is put under pressure, which feeds into a downward spiral of stress and ultimately depression.

Catnaps – short sharp boosts of sleep

A good night’s sleep can be compared to our three daily meals in importance to mind and body. Equally a catnap here or there is like a snack between the meals.

Churchill was famous for his naps which he referred to as ‘ twenty minutes of blessed oblivion, sufficient to renew our vital forces’. I too, love telling my brain to go to sleep for exactly 20 minutes. It remains a fabulous little thrill to be able to do this at will and boy, do I feel better after! Utterly rejuvenated!

Having read this, I’d like to encourage you to look at the sleep patterns in your household: your own and those of your children.

How easy is it to fall asleep? How good is the quality of the sleep? Do you feel refreshed and well when you wake up, or are you still tired?

And finally, reflect upon the process of going to bed. Is that a gentle winding down of an active day, or do your buttons get pressed and do you find yourself getting impatient more often than you’d like?

Look out for my next blog: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Kids Sleep in which I talk about how to help your child sleep well and how to make bedtime as easy and comfortable as possible.

Related post: Creative People Need More Sleep

by Renée van der Vloodt