Physiological Need for Sleep in the Child

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When a child is born, its nervous system is exposed to numerous and different stimuli, to which it gradually gets used to. Initially, these stimuli are tiring for the child’s brain, so it must take longer to rest, accept and contemplate the new impressions from the environment. That’s why the newborn sleeps 20 hours a day in periods of about 3 hours. Sleep is the deepest after they fall asleep, usually after breastfeeding. Later it becomes lighter, so the child spontaneously wakes up for the next meal. Together with growth and maturation, the need for sleep decreases. At pre-school age, the child does not sleep more than 14 hours a day, and when it gets to its school age the sleep duration reduces to 10 hours a day. 3-hour sleep periods are increased and reduced to night sleep, and the duration of the deepest sleep is prolonged.

StageAgesSleep Hours
Newborns0 – 3 Months14 to 17
Infants4 – 11 Months12 to 15
Toddlers1 – 2 Years11 to 14
Preschoolers3 – 5 Years10 to 13
School-aged6 – 13 Years9 to 11
Teenagers14 – 17 Years8 to 11
Young Adults18 – 25 Years7 to 9
Child Sleep Hours by Stages and Ages

In infants, sometimes the dream is interrupted by crying, and the most common cause is hunger. In this case, it is necessary to increase the volume of each meal or to increase breastfeeding. Sometimes the child wakes up and cries because it is cold, warm or has a physiological need, or maybe it feels bloated in the stomach and therefore is in pains. Noise or light in the sleeping ambiance can also wake it up or prevent it from falling asleep. Because of this it feels anxious and reacts by crying, an emotional reaction characteristic for this period of psychological development. If the causes of all distractions are removed and the baby does not have any health problems, the baby’s sleep ought to be calm and the crying minimized.

If the baby is well fed during its last meal, but still wakes up, it is necessary to find and remove the cause in order to fulfill the need for uninterrupted sleep. In this case, it is wrong for the child to be held or rocked, in order to stop crying. These actions do not bother the baby, on the contrary, they are pleasant to it. But, the baby unconsciously abuses that practice. In human nature lays the innate need to repeat activities that are pleasant and satisfying. The same goes for children. If the practice of carrying or swinging the baby in order for it to fall asleep is not fulfilled, the child will have a new reason to cry.

If the parents put the child to sleep with stimulating activities such as: cradling, carrying, singing songs, telling stories, walks; such habits later will be difficult to break and the child will become whiny because of the deprived privileges. Then, the parents have no other choice, but to please it and so, little by little, the baby becomes egocentric. This is the beginning of its struggle for supremacy over the parents who mistakenly support its natural opportunism and nurture its egocentricity.

Therefore, it is unnecessary and harmful for the child to be spoiled in order to fall asleep. But that does not mean that there is a need for going to extremes. It is natural, if we occasionally hold it and swing it, but we must be careful this gesture not to be recognized as an introduction to sleep. This is a natural process, which is an expression of the parent’s feelings for the child, so that physical contact such as holding and cradling is advisable to be moderately practiced when the child is awake.

The child that is spoiled by the parents with all kinds of privileges, doesn’t only cry for justified reasons, but for the need to increase and expand them in order to adjust the whole environment to itself and be served by the same.

In that kind of situation, parents often ”bite the bait”, and with various comforting techniques and additional reflections just worsen the problem. If they want to suppress the unjustified crying, and the child isn’t feeling any pain or discomfort, they should simply not pay any attention. The unaccountable crying of a child is already a form of negative behavior. The suppression of this practice is achieved by the parents not allowing the child to get to its goal with this kind of behavior. When the child senses that the crying cannot waver the parents, at one point that practice will disappear, because it does not help in achieving the goal.

Sometimes the child is persistent, but the parents must remain consistent by not abandoning the firm stance of being unyielding. Such consistency can only help the child to adapt better to the environment and get rid of its capriciousness.

When sleep is reduced only to night sleep, the child needs some time to adjust to that kind of schedule. By practicing this habit, it is again given the opportunity to adapt to community life. The child must know that it cannot sleep whenever or be awake while other family members sleep. At this rhythm, a child can get used only if the family adheres to this practice and if it always sent to sleep at the same time. It should be handled naturally and simply. Neither young children nor infants need special sleeping conditions. The dream is an innate function, a natural integral part of life, and acts on its own when a physical need for rest is required.

However, many parents have trouble sleeping with the child. In such a case, they usually sit down by the crib, hold it by the hand, tell stories, and even lie down with it in order for it to fall asleep. The child itself does not set such demands, but the parents are getting it used to certain ceremonies before falling asleep. Once a child gets accustomed to them, then it is difficult to break such a habit. At one point, it will occur to the parents that they have had enough of trying to please such needs so they will try to give up such habits. To this, the child reacts with defiance, crying, insomnia and other outbursts, which makes the parents return to old habits. Then, in a situation of intolerance, parents typically react authoritatively, shout at him, quarrel, and even intimidate it. Such actions cause a mental damage that can seriously impair its emotional development. The child enters into a conflict with its parents, deviant behavior occurs, and sleep can be disturbed in the neurotic sense of the word. There’s a common occurrence of nervous insomnia, restless sleep, and even associative fear of the night.

These disorders in children’s sleep-related behavior can be avoided if the child is handled in a reasonable way. It is necessary to introduce a sleep order, sometime between 7PM – 8PM. There will be no resistance if the night before the child fell asleep at the same time and woke up in the morning together with the rest of the family members. If the falling asleep and awakening cycle is consistent, due to the natural fatigue, the child itself will give a signal with its sleepiness that it is time for bed. The parents shouldn’t back away from this rule. The practice of going out or receiving guests at this period should be avoided, as well as various other obstructions that can affect the sleeping schedule. Also, the child should not be allowed to delay the sleeping time. It should, from the earliest age, accept the sleeping order just like the eating order.

Just before bedtime, the child needs to calm down so that it can fall asleep more easily. If it is excited before bedtime because of an over-intensive child game, it will find it harder to fall asleep and it will not be able to fall into a deep sleep. Therefore, before going to bed, calm activities are advisable, which will cause a feeling of drowsiness. This activity will enable spontaneous motivation for the child to stay in bed without parental force.

If it refuses to lie down, such behavior should be ignored and without anger and rage the parent should calmly finish the preparations needed for going to bed. When the child is already in its bed, it is desirable with a pleasant, good night tone, the parent to announce his departure from the room. In smaller children, the door can be left a little open, so that the light from the adjacent rooms can reach inside. It is known that children feel abandoned when they are in complete darkness and this scares them. Then the child cannot fall asleep, it’s disturbed, cries, and thus calls the parents to be with it. But when we fall asleep, we can already close the door as an awakening prevention because of the noise from the adjacent rooms. In the area where it sleeps, there is no need of absolute silence, but such stimuli should be minimized so it can reach into a deep sleep and to sleep uninterrupted until the next morning.

The proper sexual upbringing of the child requires that the parents let it sleep only on its own bed. When a child sleeps with an adult or older sibling and is in close physical contact with someone, especially in physical contact with the sex organs, it can cause premature awakening of the sexual urges. A particular obstacle is when a child sleeps in the same bed with his or her parents or other adults of the opposite sex. Then, in older children, sexual fantasies about this person may arise, and hence a difficulty in encountering their future sexual partner in the years of its maturity.

When a child shares a bed with others, it can cause unintended sexual irritation. This newly emerging situation suggests and leads it to begin a conscious intimate self-satisfaction due to the pleasant feeling. However, in later years, the child is mature and will itself recognize such an act. But it is unnatural and harmful for its psycho-sexual development, the sexual instinct to be awakened sooner than it spontaneously happens.

If the parents have allowed the child to set various sleeping conditions, it is necessary to lose the habit as soon as possible. In the dis-habituation process, the child will initially protest for a new regime of upbringing that is not the will of its egocentricity. Its crying, yowling and tugging are a natural reaction aimed at making parents crack and, as such, parents need to ignore them peacefully. The parent should not allow to be provoked and to get into a fight even for a moment. With determination and consistency in ignoring the child’s reactions in time they will become pointless because they do not achieve the desired effect. At such moments, addressing the child should be with pleasure and serenity, and the focus to be turned away from the causes of defiance. To such newly created rules imposed by the parent, the child will inevitably adjust, so the practice of setting the conditions for sleeping will disappear in time.