Since March is National sleep Awareness Month it is the perfect time right now to prioritize sleep! But more than just telling you WHAT steps to take, encouraging you to DO them to improve sleep habits, or HOW the strategies will be successful, I want to take a moment and tell you about WHY!
WHY does your kiddo need to sleep? (or really anyone for that matter)
WHY is it important to prioritize their sleep?
WHY should we focus on getting the best, most restful, consolidated sleep possible for our babies?
WHY is it so important that the nation dedicates a month to it each year?
As parents, we can sometimes get complacent about sleep. This is especially for ourselves (yup! I’m calling out all the over-committed parents out there, included myself), but can also happen for our kids. I just loathe the “martyr culture” that gets perpetuated about sleep to new parents. The jokes and comments that come in the form of “Hope you’re not a fan of sleeping!” tell parents that infinite sleepless nights are just the cost of having kids. Then that results in parents who are falling into the same mindset and, when baby gets into the habit of waking up five times a night, we just try to shake it off and convince ourselves that it’ll pass eventually, and we’ll get back to sleeping once they’ve grown up.
But sleep is not a “luxury” available for a high cost; it is in fact a necessity! I am not just referring to adults in this, but also to our babies and little ones. In fact, for them, sleep can be an even higher need! And here’s WHY.
Sleep is crucial for the development of a baby’s brain. During sleep, the brain processes and consolidates information, helping to create new neural connections and pathways, which leads to better retention of learned skills and abilities. This doesn’t just apply to nighttime sleep either. Babies who take regular daytime naps show an increased ability to recall language, develop skills, and think creatively over those who don’t. 1
Not surprisingly, sleep is also essential for physical growth. During sleep, the body produces growth hormone, (hGH) which stimulates tissue growth and repair. Even though the body appears relaxed when baby’s sleeping, there’s a whole lot going on inside! Cells in the cartilage called chondrocytes and cells in bones called osteoblasts receive signals from hGH to increase replication, which is a fancy way of explaining how bones grow longer, thicker, and stronger.2
Sleep is critical for emotional well-being. Babies who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to experience mood swings, irritability, and have difficulty regulating their emotions. According to Dr. Dean Beebe, director of the neuropsychology program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, “Inadequate sleep causes children to have problems regulating the ups and downs in their moods, leading to wider and more rapid reactions to relatively minor events. Children who don’t get enough sleep also don’t pay attention as well, are less likely to think before they act, and don’t seem able to solve problems as well.”
Immune System Function
Sleep helps to boost the immune system, helping babies (and adults as well) fight off infections and illnesses. How? During sleep, your body produces and releases various types of immune cells such as cytokines, T-cells, and natural killer (NK) cells. These cells are responsible for identifying and targeting pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, and initiating an immune response to eliminate them. Adequate sleep ensures that your baby’s system is properly loaded with these essential immune cells to fight off infections.
Better Parent-Child Relationships
Finally, getting enough sleep can improve the quality of your relationship with your child. When your child is regularly getting the sleep they need, they are more likely to be cooperative, cheerful, and responsive. In turn, you’ll experience less conflict and frustration with your little one. I don’t think I’m overstating the case when I say that a happier, more well-behaved child is something we’re all striving towards, am I right?
So, how can you help your child get more sleep? Well, if you are at all familiar with my processes, tips, tricks, and successes then the following bullet points won’t be too surprising to you. But for the novice readers, here are five of the biggest changes you can make tonight to start helping your little one get the sleep they need.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes relaxing activities such as reading or listening to music.
- Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment by ensuring that your baby’s room is cool, dark, and quiet. (White noise machines being a notable exception.)
- Avoid screens (TV, tablets, smartphones) before bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep.
- Encourage your child to engage in physical activity during the day, as this can help them fall asleep more easily at night.
So happy Sleep Awareness Month, everyone! I know that most of you aren’t as obsessed with the subject as I am (or maybe you are if you are not getting enough of it). But now you have taken the time to learn a little more about what makes sleep so important; so I have done my part to further this cause. And sometimes knowing the WHY is just the thing to help you move next to the WHAT and HOW.