What is sleep?

By Anita A. Li (Certified Health Education Specialist), Published: March 23, 2013

Sleep is necessary for our survival. People cannot live well and healthy lives if they don't sleep or are consistently sleep deprived. Take a moment to think about the work you do on a daily basis. Now think about the work that your kids must be doing every day.

All of it requires energy and attention. After a child's day of school, activities and homework, s/he will need rest. Sleeping allows us to rejuvenate our bodies and brains to prepare for a new day's worth of work.

There are five stages of sleep:
Stage 1: Eyes are closed in this stage and muscles relax. Body functions generally slow down.
Stage 2: This stage is also called light sleep in which the heart rate slows down and the body temperature decreases.
Stage 3: This stage is known as the slow-wave sleep. Blood pressure decreases and some people may sleep walk or talk in their sleep.
Stage 4: This is also considered a slow-wave sleep, but it is much deeper than stage 3. At this point, it would be very difficult for someone to wake up and if they are awakened, they will feel disoriented for a few minutes.
REM: REM is short for rapid eye movement. During this stage, breathing and heart rate increases and our eyes are moving back and forward. The REM stage is also when people dream.

Why is sleep important?

When people do not get enough sleep, they may feel grumpy and tired. In children, sleep deprivation may cause:

  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Worsened short-term memory
  • Slower response time
  • Poor coordination

The symptoms of sleep deprivation may negatively affect school work and grades. Sleep also affects protein construction and hormone secretion which is important for body growth and the immune system.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is also associated with chronic diseases such as

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Heart Disease

How much sleep do we need?

Age Hours of Sleep Needed
0 to 2 months 12 to 18 hours
3 to 11 months 14 to 15 hours
1 to 3 years 12 to 14 hours
3 to 5 years 11 to 13 hours
5 to 10 years 10 to 11 hours
10 to 17 years 8.5 to 9.25 hours
17 and above 7 to 9 hours

(Adapted from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

How do you get your child to sleep?

Sometimes it can be difficult to get your child to sleep. Here are some tips that may help you (kidshealth.org);

  • Get your child to go to bed at the same time every night
  • Remind your child how long they have until bedtime
  • Allow an extra 30 minutes for your child to wind down
  • Get your child to do something calming before bedtime such as reading or taking a warm bath
  • Don't allow your child to eat or drink anything with caffeine
  • Don't put a television or video games in their room
  • Don't let them watch anything scary close to bedtime
  • Make sure the child's room is a comfortable temperature, quiet and contains a night light (if needed)

Source: CDC, KidsHealth