We don’t need to tell you how important sleep is. As a parent, you have probably experienced periods of time with an almost constant sleep deficiency and all the discomforts this will bring.

But what happens in the body while we sleep? And why is sleep so important for us? Read this article to get the answers!

Why is it important to sleep?

If you wake up feeling rested and ready for a new day that means the body and brain is better prepared for a day full of experiences, decisions and challenges. The reason you feel this way is because the body has had time to do everything it needs to do during the night. While you are sleeping the body is working on preparing you for the next day.

The sleep can be divided into four stages, which you will cycle through during the night: The light sleep, the medium sleep, the deep sleep and the REM sleep.

If you wake up feeling refreshed it means the body as been through all four stages more than once and preferably in one coherent sleep. You cannot decide when to enter the different stages but there is some great news for the tired parents: When you are exhausted the body will utilize the stages more efficiently, which makes you able to survive on less sleep than normal.

The cycle last between 90-110 minutes. The stages are the same for both children and adults, but the time spent in each phase is depending on your age.

Stage 1 – the light sleep

Light sleep is a transition stage between being awake and being asleep. In this stage, the body finds its peace and prepare itself for the cycle ahead. The muscles become more relaxed and the brain waves decrease in activity. Sometimes, you might feel a muscle twitch. This is entirely natural and probably occurs because the body cannot always control the transition between flexing the muscles and being relaxed.

The light sleep is the shortest stages and lasts between 5-10 minutes.

Stage 2 – the medium sleep

This stage could be described as part two of stage 1 as you are still experiencing light sleep and you are relatively easy to wake up. The body relaxes even further. This can be seen on especially your brain waves and they become slower and more gentle in their fluctuations. Eventually, you will lose contact with your consciousness. Adults usually spend half of their time asleep in this stage. For children, it is far less, but it increases as they age.

Stage 3 – the deep sleep

If you have ever been awoken from deep sleep you will most likely recognize a feeling of being groggy and confused. The brain can spend up to thirty minutes at half power before it finally wakes up.

It is in a deep sleep where most things happen with your body. The body will restore skin, hair, nails and cells, improve your immune system, regulate your metabolism and repair damages. Children also produce growth hormones during the deep sleep, to ensure that the body grows and develops.

It is also during this stage where you might pee in bed or walk and talk in your sleep.

Stage 4 – REM sleep

The REM sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement, is the stage where the brain repeats your experiences and the things you learn. The brain is very active and will cut off the signal to your muscles. The only movement is the eyes moving back and forth behind your eye-lids. Children experience REM sleep from when they are 6 months old.

During the REM sleep, the brain will store all the things you have learned and experienced during the day. It will move everything from short-term memory to long-term memory.

This is an important stage as it will help your child experience constant progress in the development of their motor-skills, establishing relations to their surroundings, recognizing grandma and grandpa and much, much more.

We dream in this stage but we are also easy to wake up. This is why you might find yourself waking up in the middle of a dream.

Because the REM sleep is where we process our learnings, it can explain the children’s big need for sleep, as they have a steep learning curve for various skills in a very short span of time. An adult spent approximately 20-25 % of the night in the REM stage but sleeps far less than a child. A child can spend up to 50% of their time asleep in the REM stage.

The need for REM sleep decrease during the first year but they do not reach 25% until adulthood.

Sources: videnskab.dk, sundhedsplejersken.dk, sundhed.dk.

Your child’s need for sleep

Children have different need for sleep depending on their age. Especially during the first year the infant will have a large need for sleep. These hours are only guidance and covers both naps and nighttime.

Age Hours needed
1-4 weeks 15-18 hours
1-12 months 14-15 hours
1-3 years 12-14 hours
3-6 years 10-12 hours
7-12 years 9-11 hours

Source:  sundshedsplejersken.dk

The 5 best tips on getting a good nights sleep

  1. Decorate the bed for sleeping. This can be quite a challenge because the bed should be cosy and nice to be in without being too exciting. Place toys so it cannot be reached from the bed.
  2. Ensure high air quality and temperature. Air out the room before bedtime and try to reach a temperature between 15-22 degrees in the room. Keep the room dark or with a dimmed light source.
  3. Make the evenings ”boring”. Try to make the hours before bedtime a little “boring” by switching out the wild games, such as playing catch, tickle fights etc. with slower and more relaxing activities, such as reading, drawing, cuddling on the sofa or reading a book. If the child experiences an adrenalin rush right before bedtime it can be extremely difficult to fall asleep.
  4. Find the perfect routine for bedtime. You have definitely heard this one before – but it is important, finding this routine. What isn’t important is the order – if the pyjamas are on before the teeth are being brushed or not. Here, you have to figure out what is best for you. The routine should be relaxing for all parties involved, even though it can sometimes feel like a bit of a challenge.
  5. Make it cozy to wake up. Even the best sleep can be ruined by being awake in an uncomfortable manner. Try to create a good routine on waking up your child as it will help make your mornings cosier and getting out of the door easier. Here there is no single solution – listen to your child’s needs.

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