Sleep is the behavior that occupies the greatest portion of a child’s life. A child who is 2 years of age has spent more time asleep than awake. Even when children start school (around the age of 5 years) the 24-hour day is balanced equally between sleep and wake. Sleep dominates early in life because it is essential for development, growth, learning, and overall health. While children sleep, their immune system builds itself, stress hormones and heart rate are reduced, brain centers responsible for emotional and attention control are reset, and prior learning is transformed into memory. So how children sleep affects every aspect of their waking life.
Unfortunately, many children experience problems sleeping, especially children who have faced adversity and trauma. Our research has shown sleep problems to be pervasive among children in foster care and that these problems often persist even after a child has achieved permanence. When sleep problems go untreated, a child’s risk for developing physical, emotional, behavioral and other problems increases significantly. At the same time, when children consistently receive the sleep they need, likelihood of such problems is reduced. Thus, for children who have endured adversity, maltreatment, and/or trauma, sleep needs to be a primary target for overall health and wellness.
Sleep and Adjustment in Foster Environments (SAFE)
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