Sleep plays an essential role in the development of the brain and the physical growth of children. In fact, sleep is the brain’s main activity during early development, but establishing a sleep routine at the nursery can be difficult. The environment and the conditions offered in the nursery, as well as a number of other factors, influence the calm state of children. Find out what is the importance of sleep, how many hours of sleep a child needs according to age, what are the difficulties in establishing a relaxing routine, but also what techniques you can use to help a child sleep and relax in the nursery.
The importance of sleep for the child’s development at an early age
Sleep plays a critical role in regenerating brain cells, supporting the elasticity of the brain, relaxation of muscles and joints, as well as heart rate adjustment.
In the case of babies, there are two types of sleep that alternate. You have probably noticed that there are times when the sleep is deep, quiet, and the child breathes rarely, and times when the child seems restless. During deep sleep, the blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissues repaired, and important hormones are released into the body to ensure growth and development. During “active” sleep, the child’s brain is conscious and dreams are formed.
How many hours of sleep do children need according to their age
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a specific range of cumulative hours of sleep for each period in the child’s growth process. Children under 12 months are recommended to sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day and, as babies grow, their sleep schedule changes, and the number of resting hours decreases. For children between 1 and 2 years of age, the recommended number of sleep hours is between 11 and 14 hours per day. Between 3-5 years, the optimal interval is 10-13 hours, and between 6-12 years 9-12 hours.
“The specific needs of the child are paramount. Both nursery staff and parents need to dedicate time to find out what is best in terms of their child’s sleep schedule. Between the teachers and the parents, there should be a constant dialogue for this schedule to turn into a routine, regardless of whether the child is at home or in the nursery ”- Valentina Secara, early education specialist and trainer of adults.
Challenges for teachers and parents
The sleep/wake cycle is regulated by light and darkness but babies have difficulty distinguishing night from day, and, hence their irregular sleep schedule. They need to be accustomed to a certain routine, which allows them to rest.
“One of the problems encountered in the case of babies is sleep duration: too much or too little sleep. At an early age, children’s body needs a healthy program to develop harmoniously. When we say healthy, we’re thinking that sleep should be planned around the child’s needs.” – Valentina Secara, early education specialist and trainer for adults.
Overstimulation also has a negative impact on children’s sleep program. Artificial light sources, bright screens, loud sounds, all stimulate the body and distract the child.
Techniques to help a child relax
First of all, it’s important to know each child and their specific sleep needs. The nursery program should be built taking into account the particularities of each child, and there should be continuity between the child’s home routine and the one in the nursery.
Valentina Secara, early education specialist and trainer for adults, recommends that teachers obtain information about the child’s routine at home and ensure, as far as possible, the continuity of that routine.
“A child should not be forced to sleep or not to sleep if he does not want to. As mentioned, the sleep program must respect the needs and particularities of each child. If the child does not have a routine already established, you should practice a trial and error system with great patience and keeps a journal for children that are adjusting in the nursery or those who have difficulties sleeping.” – Valentina Secara, early education specialist and trainer for adults.
• Light intensity
Light intensity plays an essential role because darkness helps the brain release melatonin, a key hormone in inducing sleep. The light in children’s environment must be adjusted so that during the day they enjoy the sun and during the night it’s as dark as possible.
It is important for children to have natural light, outdoor walks during the day, and in the evening to be kept away from artificial sources, such as light screens, to help them rest. A useful suggestion is to consider installing light variators in the child’s room. Light intensity should be lowered two hours before bedtime. During this time, the child’s mood changes and the energy level decreases.
• Use familiar objects
To help him feel safe, teachers can use objects familiar to the child. Discuss with parents and ask for items that can be included in your sleep routine. Pillows, a favourite toy or maybe a photo can give the child a feeling of safe space, which will help him to relax and have a quiet sleep.
• Hug the child
Children relax when they feel protected. Wrap the child in a blanket, use sleeping bags or heavier blankets so that, during sleep, he will feel “hugged”.
• Use of essential oils
When the child is agitated, you can use vaporizers with natural essential oils. Lavender oil and vanilla oil have calming and relaxing properties.
• Ambient music
There are a number of sounds, known as white music, that can help children to calm down. White music refers to the sounds that mask potential sources of noise that occur naturally in an environment and helps children fall asleep faster. Examples include soothing rain.
Stories read by an adult or even audio stories also have the role of relaxing the child.