Importance of sleep in early childhood

It’s critical for parents to understand the importance of sufficient sleep for children’s early physical and brain development, writes Mini P.

Adequate and restful sleep is critical in early childhood as it’s during sleep that children’s bodies grow and develop. It’s during sleep that the body heals and repairs the heart and blood vessels and crucial brain development occurs. Therefore it’s vital for parents to understand the importance of sufficient sleep in children’s early physical and cognitive development and ensure infants in particular, sleep for 11-14 hours every day.

Sleep patterns
Infants experience short sleep cycles with each lasting 50-60 minutes. This includes active and deep sleep. During active sleep, infants’ eyelids twitch and breathing tends to be irregular. When she falls into deep sleep, you will observe regular rhythmic breathing, with eyelids closed.
Youngest children alternate between periods of deep and light sleep with each having its own significance. When babies are in light sleep, blood flows to her brain, processing information and stimulating cognitive development, learning capability and memory. Nerve cells in the brain develop during light sleep. On the other hand, during deep sleep, growth hormones are released by the pituitary gland, prompting tissues replacement.

improving your infant’s sleep
 Try to breastfeed at the end of the day. This will enable her to sleep longer night hours.
 Ensure she is wide awake while feeding. This will help her have a filling feed which in turn will ensure she will sleep longer and better.
 Reduce her physical activity towards the end of the day. Instead, narrate stories, read a book or play soothing music.
 Monitor your baby’s afternoon nap. If you feel long afternoon naps are reducing sleep at night, shorten duration of the afternoon nap.
 A body massage followed by a warm bath will help her sleep restfully through the night.
 Dress her according to weather conditions. In winter, dress her in warm clothes with socks and head cap and in summer in comfortable cottons.
 Provide a cozy noise-free sleeping environment under a mosquito net.
 Ban mobile phones, tablets and other devices from her bedroom. They adversely affect the quality of sleep.
 Encourage her to fall asleep on her own. Use a rocking cradle or crib, because rocking a child to sleep in your arms may reduce her capability to fall asleep on her own.
 Set a bedtime routine. Tuck her into bed, draw the curtains and say good night. In time your child will associate these rituals with sleep.

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