Dubai: It’s 10pm on a Wednesday and my 10-year-old is still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, giving his dad a lowdown on the day’s happenings at school. It is way past his usual bedtime.
“You’ll not understand anything the teacher teaches you in school tomorrow if you don’t sleep on time,” I tell him, just like my mum used to say when I was little.
But, is that true? UAE paediatric specialists say yes.
Various studies have shown that without enough sleep, children and teens can have problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving
Sleep: The ‘brain fuel’
“When it comes to children and their brain development, sleep can be considered as its fuel,” said Isabel Page, a certified paediatric sleep consultant based in the UAE.
“Sleep helps consolidate and organise the information and experiences that children encounter during the day. Sleep is not a passive activity, but a dynamic process that supports learning, memory, as well as attention, problem-solving, and creativity which are essential skills, particularly in pre-school and school-aged children.”
Sleep is not a passive activity, but a dynamic process that supports learning, memory, as well as attention, problem-solving, and creativity...
Proper sleep is essential for babies too, she said: “Babies grow and develop so quickly and they have to process a lot every day.”
Sleep is ‘as important as feeding’ children
Sleep is crucial for children's overall health and well-being, because it plays a vital role in their physical, cognitive, and emotional development, the specialist explained.
“Helping children sleep better is just as important as feeding them a nutritious and well-balanced diet,” Page told Gulf News.
How many hours of sleep do children need?
The National Sleep Foundation, an American non-profit organisation for medical information about sleep, recommends the following daily sleep durations for children, based on their Circadian rhythm (their internal body clock that determines their sleep-wake pattern).
- 14-17 hours for newborns
- 12-15 hours for infants
- 11-14 hours for toddlers
- 10-13 hours for preschoolers
- 9-11 hours for school-aged children.
For newborns, infants, and toddlers, this may consist of both nighttime sleep and daytime naps.
“This is a valid but general guideline... individual sleep needs may of course vary. We always recommend considering the child's behaviour, mood, and overall well-being to determine if they are getting enough sleep,” Page added.
Release of growth hormone
Sleep also determines growth and physical development among children.
“… during sleep, the body releases the growth hormone, which helps in the physical development of tissues, bones, and muscles,” said Page
… during sleep, the body releases the growth hormone, which helps in the physical development of tissues, bones, and muscles.
“Research shows that sufficient sleep is also responsible for boosting the immune system and helping children fight off illnesses and infections more quickly and easily. It also plays a role in regulating appetite and metabolism, which can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight,” she added.
Set bedtime routines for a healthy mind
Good sleeping habits are associated with improved mood and enhanced emotional and behavioural regulation among children. But, how do you ensure that children get adequate sleep?
Abu-Dhabi-based clinical psychologist Mohamad Naamani explained that parents can ensure this through bedtime routines.
“Bedtime routines are very important for children and can have an impact on the quality of their sleep. By following a routine, children are more likely to fall asleep more easily and have a more restful sleep throughout the night. It can also help regulate their internal body clock, making it easier for them to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed.
“Some tips for an ideal bedtime routine for children include establishing a consistent bedtime that is based on the child’s age. It’s also important to stick to the assigned bedtime every night and even, if possible, on the weekends.”
Margaret M, an Indian mum based in Sharjah said she struggles to put her four-year-old to bed. “I have two children, the elder sleeps on time but the younger keeps me awake late into the night and we both end up sleepy and groggy through the day.”
… reducing screen time, such as tablets, smartphones, television, etc., at least one hour before bedtime is essential, as devices can greatly interfere with sleep. Avoid stimulating activities and limit heavy meals and sugars before bedtime.
Sharing tips for parents facing this issue, Naamani said: “Creating a calm environment can aid sleep. Some suggestions for this include ensuring the bedsheets and pillows are comfortable, reducing noise, and dimming the lights. For the little ones afraid of the dark, a night light might help reduce night terror and anxiety.
“It might also be helpful to incorporate some relaxing activities, such as reading a bedtime story, taking a warm bath before bedtime, and practicing deep breathing.
“… reducing screen time, such as tablets, smartphones, television, etc., at least one hour before bedtime is essential, as devices can greatly interfere with sleep. Avoid stimulating activities and limit heavy meals and sugars before bedtime.”
What about on weekends?
Christina Santos, a 43-year-old Filipina mum in Dubai said: “My three children follow a strict bedtime routine on the weekdays, but on Friday and Saturday night, we stay up quite late.”
Naamani explained: “While it's important to maintain a consistent sleep schedule for children, some flexibility can be allowed on weekends.
“It's generally best to keep the bedtime and wake-up time within an hour of the regular schedule to minimise disruption to the child's internal body clock.
“Consistently staying up significantly later and sleeping in much later on weekends can disturb the child's sleep routine and make it challenging to re-adjust during weekdays. This can result in difficulty falling asleep at the regular bedtime on Sunday night and increased daytime sleepiness on Monday. To maintain a balance, try to allow a slightly later bedtime and wake-up time on weekends while avoiding excessive deviations from the regular schedule. Finding a compromise that allows for some flexibility while still maintaining a consistent sleep routine is essential.”
Does your child follow a bedtime routine? Share your experience with us at email@example.com