“In consideration of healthy physical development, one cannot stress enough the need for long periods of rest and sleep for young children. In fact, due to the increasing pace of life, more sleep is needed now than ever before to offset the physiologic strain on the young body.”
-“Toward Human Development: The Physiological Basis of Sleep” by Lisa Gromicko, available through the Waldorf Early Childhood office.
Sleep deprivation affects everything, but some main salient points include the role of sleep deprivation in such disorders as ADHD, lowered immune function, the difficulty of the development of the lower senses of the 12 senses.
Naps are extremely beneficial, according to Gromicko’s article. Morning naps have more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and help with brain maturation. This is the nap that tends to be dropped first. The afternoon nap has more non-REM sleep, which is more important for physical restoration. Again, according to this article naps should last at least 30 minutes, with an afternoon nap ending by 2:30 or 3 p.m. at the latest. In Waldorf circles, children of ages 3-6 are still seen as needing a nap of 1-3 hours. If a child is not napping, their bedtime should definitely be by 7 p.m.!
The role of regulating sleep is seen as a the responsibility of the parent to help the child develop a rhythm gently and over time. “The young child’s rhythmic (cardiovascular) system is not yet developed, but the health and building up of the entire physiology depends upon rhythm. Rhythm must be imprinted in the early years from without. The child learns to sleep by having adults that understand the importance of sleep. Sacrifices are usually necessary today to create a rhythmic lifestyle that allows for an unhurried pace. This includes regulating when the child sleeps and awakens, mealtimes, when and how much to play, limiting stimulation, consistency, predictability – a slow, even tempo with rests at regular intervals.” (Gromicko).
Okay, this is Carrie here. I know what you are thinking – Carrie, I have this child that wakes up every 45 minutes when they come out of a sleep cycle; Carrie- I have this child that nurses every hour and a half at night, Carrie, I have this child that is teething and miserable.
I know, and I have been there. I think one thing of paramount importance is to consider and rule out such things as gastroesophageal reflux, and other physical ailments that could be affecting sleep and deal with those first. If you read the article I linked to in the first part of this post, the Susan Johnson article, it is an anthroposophic view that perhaps the liver needs help in children with sleep issues. Some of this can be addressed through a different rhythm, and some families I know have put great stock into working with a homeopath to address sleep problems with their children and have had great success.
After ruling out physical problems, then perhaps look at possible causes of over-stimulation. Is there a consistent rhythm where you are firmly entrenched in your home? Or is it a barrage of running errands? How much media exposure is there? What are the general sensory impressions the child is receiving all day long – are they warm, positive, joyful impressions or ones of stress, negativity? Are you trying to “hurry up your child to go to sleep?”
Someone asked me once what I do with older toddlers and younger preschoolers who “won’t go to bed”…..Always to consider is the amount of physical activity the child is getting during the day, and the rhythm of the outbreath and inbreath during the day. If you put your whole house to bed, and really slow down at night, even if your child can’t fall asleep sometimes they will lie there and rest for a bit. Sometimes I will give mine a basket of small wooden animals to line up while I do something repetitive and physical with my hands in a dimly-lit room (knitting, folding laundry, etc) until the child is sleepy. It is always a consideration that the child is actually overtired and needs that time to unwind…
Sleep is such an important issue, especially in children under the age of 9, that I encourage you to look at this with your spouse or partner and devise the things that will work best for you all so everyone gets enough rest!
Blessings to you,