Lack of sleep could hold up toddlers’ development, says expert

The impact of losing sleep can be far more serious for toddlers than previously thought, according to a new study from the Children’s National Medical Center in the US. Dr Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at the Washington institution, told local radio station WTOP that research has suggested a lack of sleep can do more than make little ones grumpy – it can even affect their cognitive development.

“We think loss has really profound consequences, not only on things like behaviour and learning, but also on things like metabolic function,” she said. “We talk about the sort of the pillars of good health being physical activity, and good diet. But sleep should rank right up there as part of that three-legged stool for good health.”

According to the centre, toddlers need around 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, and if they can’t have a nap during the day, they need to make up for at night. Signs that a child isn’t getting enough sleep include irritability, hyperactivity and occasionally aggressive behaviour, said Dr Owens. Most kids stop needing an afternoon nap from around age four onwards, but if your child still wants to sleep at this time, it’s recommended to let them.

Making sure your child gets a good night’s sleep isn’t always straightforward – especially when they don’t want to go to bed! Try to encourage a consistent bedtime ritual, beginning with a bath or reading them a story, to get them into the habit of falling asleep by themselves. Don’t let them watch TV or play videogames for at least two hours before bed. An appropriate children’s bed, like those available from Time4Sleep, is essential, and use a nightlight rather than leaving the lights on if they’re afraid of the dark.