But science is showing that sleep also fuels physical growth. The science of growing. Growth is a complex process that requires several hormones to stimulate various biological events in the blood, organs, muscles, and bones. A protein hormone secreted by the pituitary gland called growth hormone (or “human growth hormone”) is a key player in these events. Several factors affect its production, including nutrition, stress, and exercise. In young children, though, the most important factor is sleep. Growth hormone is released throughout the day. But for kids, the most intense period of release is shortly after the beginning of deep sleep.
How much sleep do young school children need?
Children in Kindergarten need about 10 to 12 1/2 hours of sleep per night (with naps declining and eventually disappearing around age 5), and older elementary age kids need 9 1/2 to 11 1/2 hours a night. Sleep needs are somewhat individual, with some kids requiring slightly less or more than their peers. Without adequate sleep, growth problems — mainly slowed or stunted growth — can result.
Kids who don’t get enough sleep show other changes in the levels of hormones circulating in their body, too. Hormones that regulate hunger and appetite can be affected, causing a child to overeat and have a preference for high-calorie carbs. What’s more, a shortage of sleep can affect the way the body metabolizes these foods, triggering insulin resistance, which is linked to type 2 diabetes. A lack of sleep at night can also affect motor skills and concentration during the day, leading to more accidents and behavioral problems, and poor performance at school.
Proper nutrition in childhood can reinforce lifelong eating habits that contribute to your children’s overall well being and help them to grow up to their full potential and a healthy life.