Sleep is a vital process for getting rid of toxins and strengthening our neural networks. During later stages of sleep, the branches that grow out of brain cells (synapses) get a chance to strengthen and help preserve new brain cells. In REM sleep (the last stage of sleep), our brain gets organized -- it picks out the most important information of the day and stores it for the long term. "Junk" information is forgotten. Pretty neat, right?
When you are not sleeping well, the brain does not have a chance to do this. When you lose sleep, there is an excess store of toxins and chances are that your short term memory is affected. The next day, you may find it harder to reason and think clearly, and it will be difficult to solve problems that come with our usual day to day.
For kids, a research team at Princeton University has found that a chronic lack of sleep actually makes their DNA age faster. By looking at the children's telomeres (the caps at the end of our chromosomes) it showed that with chronic sleep deprivation, the telomeres got shorter. As you age, telomeres continue to get shorter leaving you susceptible to health conditions like heart disease, neurological disorders, and more.
Many studies have shown that children who sleep poorly are at higher risk of performing poorly in school, obesity, diabetes and more in the long term. For the short term, their immunity will be lower and can be more prone to frequent colds and illnesses. Children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have mood swings, tantrums, and just be cranky overall (isn't that the truth for everyone?)
The sleep needs for children vary from age to age. Below are the number of hours different age groups need in a 24 hour cycle: