During the adolescence, when young people undergo a growth spurt, there is an increase in energy demand, and they need more hours of sleep
It is a general consensus that at least eight hours of sleep per day are necessary for a healthy routine. But what most people are not aware of is that children, from their first year of life to the end of their adolescence, have even bigger sleeping demands. The ideal amount varies according to age.
“Sleep has a reparatory function in the organism. From a developmental point of view, it is related to learning and memory segmentation, and it is during the different stages of sleep that a bigger production of growth hormone happens,” explains physician Antônio Carlos Farias, a researcher at Pequeno Príncipe Institute and Pediatrics professor at Universidade Positivo.
GH is the only hormone which depends on sleep, but it is important to point out that it doesn’t depend solely on the number of hours slept, but also on the quality of the sleep.
Antônio reiterates that “sleeping is primordial, just as eating,” and, therefore, it should have the same care. He also points out that bad quality sleep may cause behavioral problems in children.
The expert, who is also a child neurologist at Pequeno Príncipe Hospital, says that it is not uncommon to treat children who are having learning disorders, lack of attention in school or mood swings related to their sleeping habits.
“Many children, when they improve their sleep quality, also improve behavioral and academic aspects,” says Farias.
But, then, how many hours are needed?
“Each person has a different sleep need. During childhood, this variability is even bigger,” explains Gustavo Antônio Moreira, a pediatrician and researcher at the Brazilian Pediatrics Society (SBP) Sleep Institute.
A newborn child sleeps up to 16 hours per day, and should reach a pattern of eight hours until they reach the age of 18. The amount of sleep hours needed varies according to the maturation of the brain. The more immature, the more hours of sleep it needs.
It is normal children to sleep a lot during the day in the first years of their lives. It is only after three months of age that it begins to distinguish day from night, for instance.
As time passes, the number of naps are reduced: with one year of age, they take two naps during the day, and by the end of the second year of age, they have only one daily nap. All hours of sleep within a 24-hour period are accounted for in the total sum.
The variation in sleep hours only becomes a problem when it has consequences for the child. “The best way of seeing if a child is sleeping well is to observe how he or she is doing during the day,” points out Gustavo. The childhood pattern will be followed throughout the child’s life – a child who sleeps little will always sleep little, for instance.
Here are the guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
4 to 12-month baby: 12 to 16 hours of sleep
1 to 2-year toddler: 11 to 14 hours of sleep
Pre-school age, from 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours of sleep
School age, from 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours of sleep
Adolescence, from 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours of sleep
Sleeping all the necessary hours, however, is not enough; there must be quality in the sleep. For that, parents should watch out for what experts call “sleep hygiene”.
An environment deprived of light and noise, with no electronic devices around, a comfortable mattress and an ideal temperature are some essential factors. Even an apparently harmless indirect light may disturb the child.
The bed should serve exclusively to sleep – it should not be used to read, study, eat, watch TV or do any other activities.
This is because sleep must have all of its stages. Neurophysiologist, pediatrician and expert in Sleep Medicine at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) and Hospital das Clínicas (HC) Ana Chrystina de Souza Crippa explains that a newborn, for instance, should have 50 percent of REM sleep, which is the period in which the information is consolidated and the energy is replenished.
An adult, on the other hand, by comparison, has 20 percent of REM sleep. “It is during these moments that people recharge their batteries, and they need it in order to become alert, to reason, to balance their humor,” she emphasizes.
There are specific aspects to which parents must pay attention. When sleeping during the night, the child must be in the dark. But during their daily naps, they should be in contact with sunlight. Light activates the pineal gland, which begins to produce melatonin after the ninth month and modulates sleeping patterns.
Pediatrician Antônio Carlos Farias explains that sleep disorders during childhood are more related to bad family habits than diseases. “With an inadequate family routine – such as having a television in the bedroom, eating late, and others – the child won’t have a good sleep hygiene.” The doctor points out that there are indeed pathologies which affect the child population, but it is a restricted pattern, with low incidence.
The consequences of bad sleeping habits
Bad sleeping habits may alter the behavior of children and teenagers. The expert tells that children may become more agitated, irritated, not able to deal with frustrations, and even suffer from chronic depression.
“I’ve seen cases in which such behavior has been mistaken for other pathologies, but the child was only agitated due to a lack of sleep,” remembers Ana.
Among the signs of bad sleep hygiene are excessive movement during the night, snoring, sudoresis, and night awakenings. If these symptoms are continuous, it is important to seek a professional for help. Too much somnolence during the day is also abnormal in children above the age of four.
Antônio, however, warns about respecting each of the child’s phases. During the adolescence, when young people are undergoing a growth spurt, they have an increase in their energy demand. During this period, there might be an imbalance between their social routine and their biological needs.
“In Brazil, when you see a teenager waking up at 6 am to go to school, that is an aggression against him. His nature demands more sleep,” says Farias.
The pre-sleeping ritual
Children learn a habit in order to sleep. This is an important ritual, because right in the first year of their lives, they choose a “transition object”, which helps them to sleep, and keep them sleeping for a long time.
Ana explains that the ideal thing to do is to train the children – doing the hygiene of their mouths, placing them in their cribs, and letting sleep alone. “If you [father or mother] create another habit, he or she will always want to reproduce that habit,” she warns.
The expert recommends not having any electronic devices, nor doing any exercises or eating energetic foods and drinks (such as coffee or fatty foods) after 8 pm. The general rule is not to let them have contact with any stimulating element for at least one hour before going to sleep.
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Na adolescência, quando o jovem passa por um estirão de crescimento, há um aumento na demanda energética e ele precisa de mais horas de sono.