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Good, Sound Sleep for Your Child

Making sure your child gets good, sound sleep ensures he or she will have a sound foundation for proper mind and body development.

Essentials of Healthy Sleep continued...

Quality of sleep: Quality sleep is uninterrupted sleep that allows your child to move through all the different and necessary stages of sleep. The quality of sleep is as important as the quantity, playing its essential role in nervous system development.

Naps: Naps play a large role in the healthy sleep of children. They help optimize your child's alertness and have an impact on her learning and development. Naps are also quite different from night sleep. Not only are they not the same kind of sleep, naps at different times of the day serve different functions. That is one reason why the timing of naps is important, and why they need to occur in sync with your child's natural biological rhythms.

In sync: We wake; we are alert; we become drowsy; we sleep. This ebb and flow, the fluctuations in alertness, all happen as part of our natural daily biological rhythms.

These rhythms are irregular in the first few months of a child's life, but gradually become more regular and develop with maturity. When sleep (naps and nighttime) is in sync with these rhythms, it is most effective, most restorative. When out of sync, it is not and can disturb the rest of the rhythm or cycle, making it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, for example. This may result in your child becoming overtired and stressed. So it is important to be aware of the timing of your child's sleep needs and adjust your schedule as best you can to be in sync with hers.

Consequences of Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances, for whatever reason, have significant and often serious consequences. In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Weissbluth states:

"Sleep problems not only disrupt a child's nights -- they disrupt his days, too, by making him less mentally alert, more inattentive, unable to concentrate, and easily distracted. They also make him more physically impulsive, hyperactive, or lazy."

Chronic sleep deprivation: It is important to realize that the effects of chronic sleep deprivation are cumulative: daytime sleepiness increases progressively. This means that even small sleep changes, over time, will have significant negative effects. Likewise, small changes allowing a bit more sleep may have similarly positive effects. It all depends on the type and degree of the sleep problem.

Fatigue: Even seemingly minor sleep deprivation causes fatigue in children. And for a child, simply being awake a certain amount of time is over-stimulating and fatiguing, even if she is not engaged in any activity at all.

Especially during the day, with friends and family, she wants to be part of the action and so her natural response to fatigue is to "fight it." That is, she tries to remain awake and alert. This results in the secretion of hormones like adrenaline, which then cause her to become hyper alert. She is now wide-awake but exhausted. Fussiness, irritability and crankiness soon follow. She also cannot be attentive and learn well at this time. This is why overtired children often appear wide-awake, wired, and hyperactive. Now you have a situation where she is so pumped up she cannot easily fall asleep.

Interestingly this also often induces night awakenings. So don't be fooled by your seemingly wide-awake, not-tired child and put her to bed later. Putting her to bed earlier is actually the remedy. Sometimes even 15-20 minutes earlier may have a significant impact and be all that is needed. You may also be surprised to find that a well rested child is easier to put to bed.

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