|MadSci Network: NeuroScience|
You are right, children are much more active in their sleep than adults. The reasons for this appear to be related to differences in sleep stages and patterns, the process of physical and mental development and other factors. It is well established that infants and children need much more sleep than adults. For example, infants need about 16 hours of sleep, toddlers about 12 and school age children about 10.
By the way, during puberty our need for sleep actually increases again and is similar to that of toddlers. Unfortunately, children at this age often do not get enough sleep and this is one reason why teenagers often complain about being tired. In fact, some studies report a positive correlation between time spent sleeping and grade point average for teenagers (this means that teenagers who get more sleep typically get better grades in school).
Children seem to be most active in their sleep between the ages of 5 and 10. This is also when sleep walking is most common (about 10% of children in this age group do so). Activity during sleep seems to be related to a number of factors including sleep stage patterns, culture, normal physical development and the presence or absence of neurological disorders. For example, one reason children are more active during sleep is because their muscles, other body parts and their brains are still developing. In fact, a significantly lower rate of activity during sleep for young children may indicate a developmental problem. In addition, body movements often occur during changes in sleep stages, which decrease as we get older. Similarly, the number of body position shifts during sleep decrease as we mature, and thus children are more likely to throw off their covers during these body movements. Interestingly, some studies have found that American children are more active during sleep than those from other countries (however, the reasons for this are not clear). Other studies have found that children that have an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder tend to be more active in their sleep than other children.
You can get more information about this topic by using a search engine on the INTERNET such as Alta Vista. Key words include sleep and sleep patterns. A college level textbook on this topic written by Stephen Shelton is entitled “Evaluating sleep in infants and children” (published by Lippincott-Raven).
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