This may be a question asked by many parents while raising their kids, but unfortunately not always for one real good reason…the bed. And the answer is usually not the right one, because most kids either sleep on a worn out bed someone else slept on for years or the cheapest bed available. These are usually wrong answers because a prior used bed, even one used by us, may have lost its ability to properly support and have body impressions that, though OK for us (it is our body) it is not good for our child. Whereas most cheap beds, even brand new, are much too firm to properly conform to a child’s small frame.
But how important is sleep for childhood development? The answer is critical, with many experts putting sleep in a triumvirate with nutrition and safety. When you say, “My kid seemed to grow overnight,” you are actually correct. It has long been known that growth hormones are secreted during the deep stages of sleep. In fact an Italian study showed deficient growth hormones in children who slept less deeply. So physical development in the childhood years is very much affected by sleep.
And what most people would suspect is that brain development is also effected by sleep, particularly the time during active, or REM sleep stages. But even those people who may recognize the effect sleep has on brain development probably do not realize that sleep has a huge effect on a child’s behavior when awake as well, like hyperactivity, mood changes and learning. It may be coincidental that children with high IQ scores sleep proportionately much longer than their lower scoring friends, but I doubt it. Brain activity of all animals are affected by sleep, but the effects can be multiplied when dealing with the developmental brain.
What might be less widely known is the effect sleep can have on other significant aspects of childhood development. Did you know that there has been research that showed a direct relationship between reduced sleep and weight gain? Sleep deprived children are less active, not more. And poor sleep has been associated with diabetes and other debilitating conditions. Even a child’s ability to fight infection and illness is affected by poor or reduced sleep.
Of course every parent should read about what they should do to effect proper sleep in children, like supporting a bedtime routine, reducing or eliminating stimulants like caffeine and creating a proper sleep environment. I would encourage everyone with children or grandchildren to read as many articles on sleep as possible.
But don’t be fooled. Most articles on the relation of sleep to childhood development concentrate their efforts on the quantity of sleep the child should get. And quantity is of utmost importance. But in most of these articles you will find reference to quality of sleep, really giving no pointers as to how to affect that important part of that most important equation of QUANTITY OF QUALITY SLEEP. That is where the bed comes in.
A bed for a child needs to be able to conform to his or her developing body, so they can remain in the deeper stages of sleep longer while giving them the support necessary for spinal and muscular/skeletal health. Be sure the bed has the ability to cradle them in a secure and healthy way. But know that this type of healthy sleep surface will almost certainly not be found in the cheap bed at the local mattress store. The correct bed will be made of more expensive, quality components designed and constructed together to ensure your precious bundle of joy gets the developmental, healthy sleep they deserve.
And grandparents, if you want to want to give your grandchildren something that will have an effect on the rest of their life, please consider replacing some stupid toys they will break or get tired of within a week with help in letting that grandchild develop and grow to be the best possible adult…a new quality bed!