One of the common topics of conversation when you have a young baby is “Are they sleeping through the night yet?”. There seems to be two definite camps when answering this question. There are those parents whose child sleeps through the night from an early age, and others that may still be having disturbed nights for years.
So why is this the case? Children have a lot of deep non-REM sleep in the first few hours after they fall asleep. Making them sleep so soundly in the first few hours after they’ve gone to bed. Children have more REM sleep and light non-REM sleep in the second half of the night. Children wake more easily from these kinds of sleep, so they might wake up more during this time than at the beginning of the night. Some children do not wake during this light non-REM sleep, whereas others wake and find it hard to settle themselves again.
In the early childhood years, sleep cycles get longer as children get older. In children aged three years, sleep cycles are about 60 minutes. By about five years, sleep cycles have matured to the adult length of about 90 minutes.
Why is sleep so important? Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly.
Vicki Dawson of The Children’s Sleep Charity has commented that: “Sleep is so important in order to ensure that children can meet their full potential in every aspect of their lives.”
Sleep deprivation impairs brain function and reduces the ability to remember and problem solve. It may also reduce your social skills and reduce your ability to recognise other people’s emotional expressions. At any age, during the holiday, your child’s sleep routine may have gone out of kilter. A few days before the start of term, is a good time to try to ensure your child gets back into a more regular routine at bedtime. This will ensure your child’s brain is ready for learning, and the academic and social rigours of the school day.
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences suggests ways to improve the quality of sleep:
• Seek out sun: Exposure to natural light, especially early in the day, helps reinforce the strongest circadian cue.
• Follow a consistent sleep schedule: Varying your bedtime or morning wake-up time can hinder your body’s ability to adjust to a stable circadian rhythm.
• Get daily exercise: Activity during the day can support your internal clock and help make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Limit light before bed: Artificial light exposure at night can interfere with circadian rhythm. Experts advise dimming the lights and putting down electronic devices in the lead-up to bedtime.