The expression “to sleep like a baby” generally means “to sleep well.” But to describe sleeping REALLY well, you’re probably better off saying “to sleep like a pre-teen.”
Every parent knows how good their baby sleeps. When you say you ‘slept like a baby,’ do you mean you woke up crying several times during the night? You’d probably be better to say they slept a like a pre-teen, i.e. a young person between the ages of 10 – 12.
Pre-teens’ “sleep hardware” is well-developed
You can think of your biological clock and its network of neurobiological connections to your endocrine system as your “sleep hardware.” Its primary function is setting your circadian rhythm. This hardware is not fully formed in newborns, however. Sleep patterns gradually even out throughout childhood as the hardware matures.
By the time a youngster reaches age 10, his or her sleep hardware is on the tail-end of the maturation process. Pre-teens and teens still need slightly more sleep (9 – 10 hours recommended) compared to an adult (7 – 8 hours recommended), but their sleep architecture is adult-like.
Who knows little sleep well
I often distinguish psychological aspect of good sleep as a “sleep software.” When you hit age 13 or so, you’ll have to deal with your maturing hormonal system, fitting in with your friends, and the academic demands of high school. After your teen years, you have to cope with the pressures of job performance and other adult worries. The nice thing about being a pre-teen is that you don’t have a lot of stress or job requirements. Children are less probable to experience traumatic and stressful events, which may override your “sleep software” in an adverse way.
Sleep depth declines with age
Newborn sleep up to 18 hours per day. At the beginning of primary education, a child requires 10 hours of sleep, while an adult copes with 8-7h of sleep per day. Sleep gets more fragmented and shallower with age.
While hormonal issues may play a role, most researchers tend to pin this sleep fragmentation on “peripheral” causes like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. These conditions are likely to worsen with age, that’s why pre-teens are far less likely to experience sleep disorders than adults of all ages.
Pre-teens are thought to be in the “golden age” of sleep because their sleep hardware is in good shape and they don’t have to face as many psychosocial and physiological sleep challenges as older folks. Just because you’re not a pre-teen anymore doesn’t mean you have to sleep bad, though. Don’t ignore sleep disorders, stay in shape, and don’t drink too much. Know your sleep hygiene and avoid light sources before sleep time.
Do you miss your childhood sleep quality? What do you do when you cannot fall asleep? Please write in the comments below!