The Importance of Sleep to Your Child’s Learning and Growth

By Ellie Porter

We all need sleep. There’s no arguing that. For children, sleep plays a vital role in their proper physical and mental growth and development. However, many foster and adoptive children have trouble falling and staying asleep. In their experience, nighttime has often been a scary time that’s full of unknowns. With sleep as a priority, you’ll be setting your child up for better long-term health and happiness.

Proper Growth
Your child does most of his growing while he sleeps. The body goes through five sleep stages throughout the night, and it’s during the first of the deep sleep stages that the body releases human growth hormone. It’s released regularly throughout the night to stimulate bone, muscle, and organ growth. When your child doesn’t get enough sleep, he’s also getting less growth hormone, which, over a long period of time, can interfere with normal growth.

Successful Social Relationships
The ability to successfully interact with adults and other children often starts with a good night’s rest. Anxiety, stress, and irritability are common when children don’t get enough sleep because of the changes that take place in the brain.

Lack of sleep causes the part of the brain that processes emotions to become over sensitive to any negative thoughts, emotions, or events. At the same time, the region of the brain responsible for applying logic to those emotions becomes less active. Children’s brains are less developed than adults so their emotional responses are less logical than an adult’s anyway, but it’s even harder when they’re tired. Irritability and emotional outbursts due to sleep deprivation can make it difficult for children to maintain successful relationships with their friends and adults.

School Performance
The measure of a happy child is not based on their school performance. However, how your child performs in school can affect how he feels about himself. In studies, sleep deprivation doesn’t affect all subject areas equally. Subjects like language and math tend to suffer more than arts and science. The performance differences show up in children who aren’t getting enough sleep and those who have poor sleep efficiency. Sleep efficiency is how many hours are slept versus how many hours the child spends in bed. Adequate sleep gives a child the opportunity to reach their full academic potential.

Physical Health
Sleep, or lack thereof, can also affect the immune system. During the night, the immune system gets to work fighting off illness and recharging itself. Without enough sleep, children are more likely to get sick and stay sick longer.

Appetite can also be affected as sleep helps regulate the release of hunger and satiety hormones. Lack of sleep increases cravings and the rewards the brain receives from high fat, sugary foods. Now, children aren’t capable of fully regulating themselves when it comes to sugar intake, but a lack of sleep can make it harder for them to exercise self-control.

Patience and Consistency
Sleep isn’t always easy for children who haven’t lived an ideal life. As a parent, patience and consistency are your greatest allies, especially when it comes to bedtime and a bedtime routine. Some children may need extra helps like weighted blankets, nighttime snacks, or a white noise machine to make bedtime a success. The important thing is that you make sleep a priority and have patience as your child works to build new habits that can last the rest of their lifetime.