Sleep is vital for children. Tips on how to get a good night’s sleep

It was not very long ago that a child would go to bed smoothly at the end of the day. Now, the shimmer of lights and the sound of life keep them awake. While the adults remain awake to complete their work, children, even very young ones, remain glued to screens or school books. And sweet sleep slowly turns a frontier area of intense medical study.

Mohammed Kunju, Head of Paediatric Neurology at the Sree Avittam Thirunal Hospital, has spotted an approximate jump of 10 per cent in the cases of sleep disorders among children in the last 10 years.

Cases of sleep disorders are also on the rise, as is known from a postgraduate study conducted in Thiruvananthapuram Medical College. Of the 1,260 children screened in the age group of 10 to 17, 155 were found to have sleep disorders.

Changes in sleep pattern

The growing changes in sleep pattern in children, according to Naveen Jain, Head of Neonatal Paediatrics at KIMS, leads to lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes and even cardiovascular disorders in the future. Children as young as nine or even younger complain nowadays of migraine, a fallout of which is sleep deprivation.

Rithika Anand says her father understood the danger that lack of sleep could cause and hence asked her to drop out of dance, music and abacus classes that kept her fully engaged during the weekends. “During the weekdays, I have school from 8.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. After coming home, I study till at least 12 a.m. It was then that my father asked me to drop out of the weekend classes. Now I catch up on sleep during weekends,” she says.

While extracurricular activities could be done away with, not many children are encouraged to lighten their study schedule. Ardra and Dary, both in Class 12, say they hardly get to sleep five hours even on weekends. Children their age should be sleeping over nine hours for proper mental and physical wellness, according to sleep experts.

“Instilling proper sleep hygiene could help tackle the lifestyle issue to a great extent,” says Priya Kayastha, clinical psychologist.

An environment of rest should be created at least one hour before we put the child to sleep. This applies to infants, toddlers, and even older children. The last meal of the day should be at least two to three hours before sleep.

“There are some children who wake up at night asking for food. Even they should be given just water,” Dr. Kunju says.

Experts also have tips to make a children’s room conducive for sleep, especially in the case of infants. According to World Association of Medicine, the room should be quiet, dark, and maintained at a temperature between 20 to 25 degree Celsius with a humidity level between 60 to 70 per cent. Humidity factor is because if low, infants find it tough to breathe.

Also, the clothing should be warm and diapers snug enough to not allow seepage. As such, infants sleep 10 times more than adults and hence their movement during sleep is more. Any external stimulation should therefore be less, because it is during sleep in infants that the brain releases the growth hormone that, as the name suggests, helps them grow.

In infants, too, a regime brings better sleep. A warm bath or a soothing massage just before bedtime would make the young one sleep long and well.

Sleep regime

As a child grows older, he or she should be encouraged to stick to a sleep regime. Sruthi, a full-time mother, tried a method to imbibe this in her six-year-old. “I helped her make cards or charts on what to do before going to bed. It was hung on the wall of her room and she was asked to go through it every night before hitting the sack.” The cards had sections like ‘Did you brush your teeth?’, ‘Did you change into your night wear?’, ‘Did you wash your legs or take a hot shower?’, and ‘Did you pray?’. This, in addition to bringing discipline and hygiene, also prepares the child to slowly move to sleep.

While on the bed, age-old methods of story-telling or songs or any such soothing activities could be followed. But what is important is the run-up to the time of sleep. “Watching TV or doing activities under bright lights is not advisable just before sleep. Such a practice could mar quality sleep or what is called the Non Rapid Eye Movement sleep in medical parlance,” says Dr. Kunju.

Restricting a child from spending more than an hour in front of screen — TV, computer or mobile phones — is important for a proper sleep pattern.

While these are techniques to be followed at home, Madhuram Balyam, a child rights group, finds the educational pattern of the times to be the root cause of the issue. “We are planning a programme called ‘either school or tuitions’. All that we seek is proper sleep for children,” says Phillip M. Prasad, a coordinator of the group.

According to National Sleep Foundation, 2011

A child less than three months old should get around 10.5 to 18 hours of rest

Children aged three months to one year should receive nine to 12 hours

Children aged between one and three should sleep for 12 to 14 hours

Children between ages 3 and 5 should get 11 to 13 hours of sleep

Children between the ages 5 and 12 should rest for 10 to 11 hours

Children between the ages of 12 and 16 should sleep for 8 to 10 hours

Those aged 16 and above require 7 to 8 hours sleep