The Big Sleep
When was the last time you got your full eight hours of sleep? The hectic lifestyle of urban dwellers like us often means that we are constantly trying to stretch our waking hours - perhaps to meet a deadline or squeeze in that late night movie date. We tell ourselves that we will deal with the fatigue when morning comes.
But for young children, the problem that arise from not getting enough sleep cannot be quickly and easily solved by perhaps a bottle of chicken essence or a dab of concealer on dark circles under the eyes. Dr Jennifer Kiing, Clinical Director & Senior Consultant at the Child Development Unit of National University Hospital identifies the five impacts sleep deprivation has on young children:
Children become inattentive when they are tired, and some might also become hyperactive when they are tired.
Tired children have difficulties learning in school, as it takes them longer to process information and sustain the attention require of them to learn.
Tiredness also affects working memory. Children who do not get enough sleep have difficulties retaining new information and retrieving information from memory.
4) MOOD AND BEHAVIOUR CHANGES
With insufficient sleep. children might become more irritable, moody or throw tantrums as a result of tireness.
5) METABOLIC CHANGES
Lack of sleep in children might also contribute to their developing obesity, diabetes and heart disease in later life.
Just how much sleep is enough for children? It all depends on their age - the younger they are, the more they need." A child in primary six needs about nine hours-plus of sleep a night.
"Only when they reach 18 years of age do they require just about eight hours of sleep," says Dr Kiing. For parents' reference, she shares a sleep chart that indicates the hours of sleep required for children of different ages:
She discloses, "In a multi-site study across a number of Asian and Western countries, Singaporean children under three years of age were found to have significantly less sleep and later bedtimes than predominantly Western countries." (MIndell J.A., Wiegand B., How T.H., Goh D.Y., Cross Cultural Differences in Infant and Toddler Sleep. Sleep Med. 2010 Mar: 11(3): 274-80) This could stem from a lack of awareness of the ill effects of not getting children to sleep for longer. This could also be the result of some lifestyle and routine choices that lead to poor sleeping patterns in children.
1. Allowing a child to sleep in several hours (i.e. waking up later than usual) on weekends.
2. Allowing a child to play on electronic devices right up to bedtime.
3. Not training a child to self-soothe back to sleep (for example, a child who needs to drink a bottle of milk to fall asleep will cry for milk each time he wakes, and might do so many times through the night.)
4. Having a child do homework right up to bedtime and not letting him wind down sufficiently to have a restful night's sleep.
5. Co-sleeping - an adult's snore can wake a child more frequently through the night.
Dr Kiing dispenses the following tips to help parents develop better sleep patterns in their children.
WINDING DOWN FOR BED
"Establish a bedtime routine which usually starts 30 minutes before bed and involves quieting down, such as reading a book together after a child changes into pyjamas," she recommends.
Winding down is an important aspect to achieving good sleep patterns. Dr Kiing also advises that parents should ban play on all electronic devices and screen time at least an hour before the child's bedtime - and to keep such devices out of the bedroom.
CONSISTENT SLEEPING ROUTINE
Keeping to a routine is also key. This means bedtimes should be kept regular throughout the week, including on weekends.
For younger children, she also recommends having the child learn to self-sooth so that they can put themselves back to sleep every time they wake.
And for school children who have to wake early for classes, one common-sense reminder: "Have the child go to bed early to ensure at least 10 hours of sleep for children in primary one."
SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP
If you have tried every tip and trick found in parenting books and websites, do not give up yet, for professional help is at hand.
"If a child refuses to sleep and parents have tried many different strategies, then they may want to seek professional advice, which can be obtained from paediatricians experienced in the management of sleep problems in children," shares Dr Kiing. "Get professional help when sleep is a problem - which means when either parent or child do not have a restful night's sleep."
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