Written by 11:59 pm Baby & Toddler

Sleep And Your Young Ones

If you were walking past Raffles Place in March, you could have seen people napping on the lawn outside the MRT station. They were doing that in celebration of World Sleep Day 2012, and supporters of the “Sleep An Hour More Movement” had resorted to this siesta movement to raise awareness on the need for “Sleep for All Ages””. The movement emphasised out how sleep deprivation affects performance for people across all age groups, from children and teenagers, to adults and the elderly.

In Singapore, the number of sleep-deprived is rising. A survey in 2007 revealed that 80 per cent of secondary school respondents sleep less than the recommended eight hours nightly. Last year a Singapore Sleep Society survey found that 97 per cent of junior college students felt sleepy during class, and 30 per cent needed to drink caffeinated beverages to stay awake during the day.

Obviously, there are many who are sleepless in Singapore.

The Nappy Age

Sleep is crucial for children’s health and overall development as it directly impacts mental and physical development. A guide on sleep – Better Sleep For Your Baby & Child – published by a Canadian children’s hospital describes sleep requirements from birth as follows:

*newborns – 16 to 18 hours
*infants – 13 to 16 hours
*toddlers – 12 to 14 hours
*preschoolers – 11 to 13 hours
*school children – 10 to 11 hours
*teens – 8.5 to 9.5 hours

Humans have a built-in clock, the Circadian Rhythm, which refers to biological cycles that repeat every 24 hours. This regulates our sleep-wake cycle, but takes time to develop. Hence the irregular sleep schedules of newborns.

By six months of age however, most babies are able to sleep through the night. This means no interruption of sleep from the last feed of the night to the first feed in the morning – not necessarily eight full hours.

A regular and consistent schedule throughout day and night can help children sleep better. As Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, attests, “Children whose sleep cycles have been disrupted or shifted or whose sleep schedules are variable, inconsistent, or otherwise inappropriate… may sleep poorly at night, and they may be sleepy or behave badly during the day.”

Indeed, sleep is often the magical cure for many a screaming baby or toddler who is too over-tired to calm down. Look out for signs that indicate your child’s need for sleep – when she is whiny, fussy, clingy, hyperactive, or overly stubborn.

Elisabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution, advises sticking with what works: “If your child is getting enough sleep, you are all sleeping well, and the people who live in your home are happy with the way things are working out, then nothing needs to be fixed, regardless of what anyone else has to say about your family’s sleeping situation.”

For example, if your child sleeps only in your bed or on the sofa with music or lights on, stick to it, especially if it works for all of you. The same rule works for naps.

Does My Child Still Need To Nap?

There is no age limit on naps, so your primary school-going child is just as likely to nod off as an infant, if she needs the rest. Naps ideally last between one and three hours, and children should be woken by four pm so as not to affect their night bedtime, the Canadian guide says.

How can you tell if your child does not need one? Well, if she regularly stays awake for 30 minutes before falling asleep, she may not really need it anymore. But don’t be too hasty to eliminate your child’s naptime. This, contrary to expectation, will not help him to sleep longer or easier at night.

If your child attends a preschool-cum-child care, you may want to check the school’s policy on naps. Most centres allocate nap-time for the children under their care. If your child does not want to nap, he should be allowed to enjoy a quiet activity after a 15-minute lie down.

He needs some form of rest even of he does not nap, as an overtired child may have difficulties relaxing, and resist going to bed. His quality of sleep will also decrease, with his nights peppered with waking-ups and nightmares. The US National Institute of Health has also found that preschoolers who lack naps may suffer from reduced vocabulary and auditory attention span.

Grace Yong had her four boys take afternoon naps all the way until they were in Primary four. “My third son had poorer health, so he napped until he was in Primary five. When they were in primary school, my children didn’t sleep that early, closer to 10 pm and they had to get up by 6:30 am, so the afternoon naps helped to keep them healthy. If my children missed the afternoon nap, they had to sleep at nine pm.”

The Executive Director of Character Montessori adds: “When my children were very young, a doctor friend told me that sleep is very important for health, because when they sleep, that’s when the body uses the food they eat to grow and heal. If they get enough sleep, they are less likely to fall sick.”

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