The Truth about Sleep and Brain Development in Children Revealed

The Truth about Sleep and Brain Development in Children Revealed

According to a recent Millennium Cohort Study done to investigate the relationship between sleep and brain development in children, irregular bedtimes from 0-3 years negatively affect reading skills, math skills, and spatial awareness in children. The study which involved 11,000 children shows why it is important for children to have regular bedtimes especially between ages 1 and 3.

From this study, it’s accurate to conclude that sleep is as important as food for children given the fact that it dictates whether a child’s brain will be able to develop and function properly in the future.

Why Kids Needs Healthy Sleep

Although most parents seem to understand this instinctively, many parents struggle in their efforts to make sure their children get the best sleep possible. 

Lifestyle factors such as; long days at work, sports' schedules, or other commitments, tend to push back bedtimes. Sadly, some babies even miss naps. 

All these factors have serious effects on brain development that may bring forth effects last a lifetime.

What is healthy sleep?

It is important to understand what healthy sleep is for you to be able to ensure your child’s brain develops correctly from the onset.

  • First and foremost, healthy sleep should be uninterrupted. Your baby should be able to sleep continuously without being woken up by noises, lights among other distractions.
  • Healthy sleep should also be sufficient. Newborns should get 8 hours of daytime sleep and 8 hours of nighttime sleep. One-month-old babies should get 6-7 hours of sleep during the day and 8-9 hours during the night. Three-month-old babies should get 4-5 hours of sleep during the day and 10-11 hours during the night. Six-month-old babies should get 3 hours of daytime sleep and 11 hours of sleep during the night. Babies aged nine months to one year should get 2-3 hours of sleep during the day and 13 hours of sleep during the night. Babies aged 1 to 2 years should get 2-3 hours of sleep during the day and 11 hours of sleep during the night. Babies aged 3 to 5 should get one hour of sleep during the day and 10-13 hours of sleep during the night. Of course, sleeping hours can vary. However, the above times come highly recommended.
  • Healthy sleep must also be in sync with a child’s internal clock. Your baby should sleep when they want to or feel like sleeping.

Top reasons why your child needs good sleep

Since you now know what healthy or good sleep is, let’s shift our focus to the top reasons why your child needs healthy/good sleep.

 1. Sleep boosts brain development

According to a Canadian study published in 2008 in the journal, Sleep, children who get less than 10 hours of sleep every night before age 3 are more likely to develop language and reading problems among other brain disorders like ADHD as they grow older. Sleep helps in brain development because there is a strong relationship between sleep and neuroplasticity (structural and functional changes that take place in the brain through training and experience).

Getting good sleep helps the brain increase brain tissue (known as grey matter) as well as alter brain circuits known as synapses. Although the adult brain is capable of making these changes, it does so at a smaller scale. The most crucial period for these brain changes is during the first three years of life. This is, in fact, one of the main reasons children recover from head trauma faster than adults.

2. Sleep boosts learning

According to research studies, newborns usually learn in their sleep. One such study done by Columbia University Medical Center researchers indicates that the brain of an infant is usually busy throughout the night. The learning is evident from the fact that all babies twitch as they sleep which is an indication of the nervous system testing connections between the muscles and brain.

Studies have also proven that kids who take naps remember more. One such study has been done by neuroscientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The neuroscientists who studied 40 preschoolers discovered that kids who took daily naps averaging 77 minutes were able to remember everything they learned while those you didn’t take daily naps forgot approximately 15% of what they had learned.

3. Sleep boosts growth

Your child also needs healthy sleep because deep sleep boosts growth. Numerous studies show a relationship between poor sleep and deficient levels of GH (the growth hormone). The growth hormone is secreted most effectively during deep sleep. This is according to Judith Owens, Director of Sleep Medicine at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The importance of deep sleep can’t, therefore, be overlooked when it comes to growth.

4. Sleep boosts heart health

Sleep has also been linked to heart health. According to numerous research studies, kids who get adequate amounts of good sleep have lower vascular damage risks. Poor sleep has also been linked to high obesity, diabetes and heart disease risks among children. According to Jeffrey Durmer, Ph.D., a sleep specialist in Atlanta, children who suffer from sleep disorders have elevated glucose and cortisol levels at night which increase their risks of suffering from heart-related ailments.


The above information summarizes the importance of ensuring your child gets healthy sleep every day. As discussed above, healthy sleep is uninterrupted, sufficient and in sync with a child’s internal clock.

Although the main benefits of healthy sleep for children revolve around brain development, learning, growth and heart health benefits, there are many other reasons why you should ensure your child gets healthy sleep during their formative ages.

For instance, sleep also boosts weight loss. Kids who tend to sleep less tend to have weight problems during infancy. Healthy sleep is also known to increase alertness and reduce injury risks. All in all, the above information should encourage you to take your child’s sleeping needs more seriously.

For instance, try to make sure your child sleeps enough going forward depending on their age. Look around your child's sleep environment and try to create a space that encourages sleep.