Although it may seem that little is happening during the sleep of a baby or child, actually many very important processes are occurring in his body. Effective naps and sleep allow rapid child development in the early stages of life. Furthermore, research shows that children have problems with concentration and emotions up to adulthood if they are deprived of deep rest during the day. Why is this so?
A team of therapists from the University of Massachusetts conducted an experiment on the role of a nap in preschoolers. The study involved 40 children aged 3 to 5 who had to play a memory game. They had to remember where the card was and match it with the card they were flipping over. After playing, the children either took a nap or remained awake. Each toddler was tested twice – with and without the nap, and then his memory was checked. The results showed the children who were unable to rest forgot more and gave about 60% correct answers, while the group who had a nap produced 75% correct answers. When all the children were tested after a full night of sleep, the group who had a nap continued to perform better. Short sleep is therefore crucial in consolidating the memory of even the youngest. It turns out that memory is caused by impulses often called “the spindle of sleep”. Such brain activity intensifies in the second phase (NREM) and at the same time the blood pressure drops, the breathing slows down, and the toddler’s body temperature decreases. It has been observed that children who have a high level of “sleep spindle” activity have a better predisposition to organize knowledge and experiences during sleep.
The situation is slightly different in newborns, among whom the cerebral cortex remains active during sleep, and they are not completely unaware of what is happening to them. This means they can absorb the environment and learn. Interestingly, they are much more likely to have a REM phase, when dreams are shaped.
Sleep and overweight
Sleep is also a time of rebuilding energy as well as physical and functional resources. The brain organizes all the information collected during the day, perpetuates memory traces, rebuilds neurotransmitters and sensitizes stimulus receptors. Then the pituitary gland responsible for the production of growth hormone is also triggered. If the toddler does not sleep properly and has an irregular lifestyle, it’s possible his growth and development may be inhibited.
Apart from naps, the most important factor is night sleep. Research results published in the Journal of Pediatrics show that effective rest protects children from becoming overweight and obese in later years. In a group of children who went to sleep early, only 1 in 10 was obese. Up to 25% of toddlers who went to bed after 9 pm, were overweight ten years later. Why is that so? Sleep deprivation disrupts hormonal activity. The amount of melatonin in the body decreases but cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase. Lack of sleep also contributes to reduced performance, which translates into the work of liver enzymes. There may also be a problem with maintaining optimal blood sugar levels.
Children with sleep deprivation will face additional problems. Another study by professors at the University of Massachusetts reported that in addition to the disorders of concentration, as adults these toddlers will struggle with expressing and reading emotions.
Unfortunately, forcing a child to sleep can also have negative effects. It is preferable to observe the toddler and ensure that his signs of tiredness result in the appropriate rest time, so he then learns to sleep independently.