“No, I am not tired. I don’t want to sleep. I want to play with you, Titi Thai,” Abby said. She rubbed her sleepy and very tired eyes one night while I was babysitting her. Being an aunt is tough! As I try to respect my siblings' wishes when it comes to their children, it is hard to not give in to my cute, sweet nieces. I can see the battle between my sister Kathy and her three-year-old daughter, Abigail, when she fights her nap times. But we know that sleep is a crucial part of a child’s development. It would be wrong for me to say there is a certain age that is toughest—for example, “the terrible two’s.” Having spent plenty of time with my nieces—one, three, and nine years of age—I can testify that, although I am not a mother, all ages are tough until the child is fully on its own (although even then parents are still worried about their children’s well-being). As an active aunt I try to help out as much as I can with my niece Abby, who has a very strong character but at the same time is an innocent, sweet little girl. The only way to not give in to her “fighting-sleep battles” is to tire her out by overstimulating her brain with activities.
Healthy People 2020 states that, “Sleep is a basic requirement for infant, child, and adolescent health and development. Sleep loss and untreated sleep disorders influence basic patterns of behavior that negatively affect family health and interpersonal relationships. Also, fatigue and sleepiness can reduce productivity.” This is especially true among children of Abby’s age. However, for those who have infants, let us consider how crucial sleep is to the early stages of life.
Many may be aware of what a circadian rhythm is. In summary, it is the sleep-wake cycle that is regulated by light and darkness This cycle takes time to develop. With this in mind, consider what E. G. White, a servant of God, wrote in The Ministry of Healing (pg. 386): “Teach your children from the cradle to practice self-denial and self-control.” In other words, a mother should teach her baby a routine schedule for sleep, and thus the circadian rhythm starts to develop. As the baby becomes a toddler, it will have formed a cycle in which a nap time will be established, and so the process of behavioral teaching and obedience as well as self-control is proceeding. The amount of sleep varies with age, but it is still a very big part of development.
Infants up to 3 months sleep around the clock, and the sleep-wake cycle interacts with needing to be fed, changed, and nurtured. Newborns sleep a total of 10.5 to 18 hours a day on an irregular schedule with periods of one to three hours spent awake. Ages 4-11 months sleep 9-12 hours during the night and take 30-minute to 2-hour naps during the day. By the sixth month of age, nighttime feedings are usually not necessary, and many infants sleep through the night; 70-80% will do so by nine months of age. By this time, a parent should have developed regular daytime and bedtime schedules, created a consistent and enjoyable bedtime routine, established a regular "sleep-friendly" environment, and encouraged the baby to fall asleep independently.
Toddlers 1-2 years of age need about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. When 18 months of age is reached, their nap times will decrease to once a day and will last one to three hours. Keep in mind that naps should not occur too close to bedtime as they may delay sleep at night. At this age, toddlers experience sleep problems, including resisting going to bed, like Abby does. Important recommendations for this age are to (1) maintain a daily sleep schedule with a consistent bedtime routine, (2) make the bedroom environment the same every night and throughout the night, and, most important, (3) set limits that are consistent, communicated, and enforced. Also, including a security item such as a stuffed animal or blanket is a good idea. Abby uses a “blanket bear” and will not fall asleep without it.
Children 3-5 years of age, which are usually preschoolers, typically sleep 11-13 hours each night, and most do not nap after five years of age. The purpose of sleep is for regeneration and replenishment of the body and the brain. In developing children, sleep is crucial. They tend to be stimulated all the time, which makes them naturally tired by the end of the day. Although they fight to stay awake, wise parents will teach their children good habits. “Parents, let the sunshine of love, cheerfulness, and happy contentment enter your own hearts, and let its sweet, cheering influence pervade your home. Manifest a kindly, forbearing spirit; and encourage the same in your children, cultivating all the graces that will brighten the home life. The atmosphere thus created will be to the children what air and sunshine are to the vegetable world, promoting health and vigor of mind and body” Ministry of Healing, E. G. White, pg. 387.
It has been proven that adequate sleep enhances learning and memory. In the brain is an area called the hippocampus, the memory center, which is responsible for learning and emotions. In a recently watched TED talk by Matt Walker, “Sleep Is Your Superpower,” I learned about amazing results from studies done on the brain. Subjects with an adequate eight hours of sleep and subjects who were sleep deprived were tested. Those with adequate sleep had higher brain activity in the hippocampus area, but those who were sleep deprived had no brain activity at all. In other words, new information being received by a sleep-deprived individual was not being retained. With deep, proper sleep, the brain waves are continuously shooting messages of everything received during that day to the proper areas of the brain; short-term memory becomes long-term memory. If this is crucial for adults, it is much more crucial in a developing child.
Let us remember that God has commanded us to be in good health, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” 3 John 1:2. May we all, children and parents alike, be blessed with good rest!
By Athai Ramirez,
American Union Newsletter Editor, Valencia, CA