Sleep plays a huge part in promoting physical development in children and a young people. While children sleep a growth hormone called ‘somatotrophin’ is dispersed through the pituitary gland. This hormone is released throughout the day but approximately 80% of it is released soon after a child or adolescent is in the Non-REM stage of sleep. If a child does not reach their sleep requirements at night then this can subsequently inhibit their physical development.
There are several other factors that also inhibit physical development, including diet and exercise, however for children the key element is sleep.
Without enough sleep a child may develop slow or stunted growth. Research carried out by Department of Psychology, The Adler Centre for Research in Child Development and Psychopathology, Tel Aviv University, proves this. They carried out a study on ninety-six first born healthy 6 month old infants. Their sleep was monitored over 4 consecutive nights. The baby’s parents had to complete a background and developmental questionnaire. The baby’s weight and height was assessed during a standard check-up in the clinic. The researchers found that sleep is related significantly to physical growth as early as the first months of life.
This being the case sleep is vitally important for a child’s physical development. If a child continues to have sleep problems for a number of years this will hugely impact on the child’s development, therefore it is extremely important that child sleep issues are rectified promptly. “You need to go to bed to grow big and strong” is very true.
1“If children are not sleeping well the consequences may be problems with behaviour, attention, learning, and memory”.
The term “sleep on it” is very beneficial. If you have a problem you have a much better chance of solving it after a good night’s sleep. Some researchers believe that REM sleep holds important psychological functions. They suggest that sleep allows us to process daytime experiences and move recent memories into long-term storage. Therefore if a child is not getting an adequate amount of REM sleep they are not processing and storing the information they gathered during the day. It will therefore take them longer to learn and develop in comparison to a child who is getting a sufficient amount of sleep.
If children do not get enough sleep at night, it will affect how they learn the next day. They will not be able to retain the information they are being taught correctly. They will also feel very sleepy in school and be noted as being a “daydreamer”. Their judgment is impaired which can make them more accident prone. They may also not have the energy to participate in sports and active play. This may culminate in the child developing a laissez-fair attitude to life. The child may experience difficulties in making friendships as they do not have the interest to participate in activities. These factors may in some cases lead to depression in the child.
According to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University, for each additional hour of sleep, the risk of a child becoming overweight or obese was lowered on average by 9%. The paper also showed that children who slept the least had a 92% higher risk of being overweight or obese compared to children with a longer sleep duration.
When you are sleep deprived, your body produces less leptin which is the hormone that tells your brain there is no need for more food, and produces more ghrelin, the hormone that triggers hunger. So it is logical to surmise that a lack of sleep coupled with lack of exercise due to low energy levels, results in a tendency to eat more sugary food as an energy substitute when you are tired culminating in an increased the risk of obesity.
Studies also say that lack of sleep also affects the body’s ability to adequately use insulin. Currently childhood type 2 diabetes is on the rise. Lack of sleep and obesity are contributing factors. Hence our children are potentially at risk of a multitude of medical problems due to lack of sleep.
Many children who are taught to suffer from ADHD have subsequently discovered that lack of sleep was the main cause of the problem. As children can often get very hyper from overtiredness and become unable to concentrate on a task for any significant amount of time. As overtiredness in some children can seem the same as ADHD, ADHD can often be misdiagnosed.
Insufficient sleep affects a lot more than the child’s mood. It potentially affects nearly all aspects of their life. If children’s sleep problems are not dealt with as soon as they are discovered the outlook for that child’s future can be significantly negatively impacted. The amount of physical, mental and emotional problems that can be related to a lack of sleep is countless. Lack of sleep has the ability to completely change a child’s life. Physically they may not grow to their true height, their weight can increase which then leads to other problems with blood pressure etc. The risk of diabetes is increased. Intellectually they may have problems as they will be unable to retain information correctly. They are more accident-prone due to bad judgements. They can either be withdrawn and uninterested in life or hyper-active. A good night’s sleep is as important to a child’s well-being as food and drink.
1 Dr. Shelly Weiss, author of Better Sleep for Your Baby & Child: A Parent’s Step-by-Step Guide to Healthy Sleep Habits .