Why Sleep is Essential for Kids and Teens
Sleep is a physiological need of unimaginable importance in human development, playing a role in several biological processes. A person can spend a third part of their life sleeping, with childhood being the period where the most sleep is needed.
Despite its relevance, there isn’t a singular hypothesis that definitely explains its primary function. Several theories are commonly cited, including: the "rest" of the systems (such as cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, renal, etc.), the consolidation of memory and learning, the removal of inflammatory substances produced while awake, the strengthening of the immune system and the promotion of physical and cerebral development.
The importance of adequate sleep, both in duration and quality, is increasingly recognized and when it’s not adequate it’s linked to diseases in various systems. The adult population is most significantly impacted, with cardiovascular diseases perhaps taking the lead. These are associated with heart attacks, cerebrovascular events and altered cardiac function. Consequences of these diseases include cognitive decline, dementia, and emotional disorders. While children also experience various levels of disturbances due to inadequate sleep, cognitive and behavioral issues are most frequently reported.
Symptoms related to sleep disturbances in children and adolescents are quite common. Most of them can be addressed with the right intervention, which includes proper sleep hygiene. The presence of respiratory symptoms during sleep such as snoring, breathing pauses, or restless sleep, as well as behavioral disturbances and learning problems, are the most frequently observed manifestations that should alert us to their potential existence.
Early recognition and treatment of these disorders can improve the quality of life of children and reduce their consequences, some of which may become irreversible in adulthood. There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, a combination of interventions will undoubtedly reduce or even eradicate the disease. Numerous freely accessible online resources are available for parents and caregivers seeking more information. Alternatively, it's advisable to consult with a pediatrician or sleep medicine specialist.
Below are some recommendations for sleep hygiene in children and adolescents to help them sleep better:
- Maintain regular bedtime and wake-up schedules regardless of the day of the week.
- Provide an environment conducive to sleep: quiet, cool and dimly lit.
- Avoid exposure to screens (TV, cell phones, tablets, computers) at least two hours before bedtime.
- Avoid intense physical exercise at the end of the day.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
- Avoid large meals close to bedtime, especially the consumption of stimulating beverages (coffee, tea, chocolate, carbonated drinks).