Is Sleep As Important As Diet ?

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Why is a good night’s rest important for Children?

Sleep is an essential part of everyone’s routine and an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle. Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and even depression.

Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue, and kids who are obese grow into obese adults, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the myriad health issues that come along with obesity. (But just in case you’re not familiar, they include diabetes, heart disease, all kinds of cancer, osteoarthritis, and joint inflammation, just to name a few.)

But what does sleep have to do with obesity? Again, I’m glad you asked.

A 2008 study by the National Institute of Health looked at the average number of daily hours of sleep that kids between 6 months and two years old were getting, and then compared those results with their occurences of obesity. The children who got an average of less than 12 hours of sleep a day were over twice as likely to be obese than those who slept for 12 or more. A much larger study done in the UK showed similar results.

With all of the health issues, as well as the general quality of life concerns that come along with obesity, it seems to me that sleep should be a major concern for parents.

However, every day I hear people advising new parents with what I’m sure is meant to be reassuring rhetoric, but I must admit, given the evidence, I find it really upsetting.

“Babies sleep when they want to sleep. Don’t force it.” 

“Not sleeping is totally normal for a baby.”

“Just follow your baby’s lead. They know how much sleep they need.”

Can you imagine this same kind of talk if it was concerning baby’s diet?

“Babies know what’s healthy to eat. Just follow their lead.”

“Eating chocolate is totally normal for babies.”

“Kids will eat when they’re ready. You shouldn’t schedule mealtimes.”

If you heard those words coming out of anybody’s mouth, you would immediately qualify them as a lunatic, and you certainly wouldn’t listen to their advice on your kids.

What Happens When Children Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

As every parent knows, a child that’s short on sleep can swing between being grumpy and hyperactive, with effects that can mimic ADHD. Sleepiness can also affect your child’s ability to pay attention, with ramifications for their performance in school. Even minimal sleep restriction can have effects on your child’s day-to-day life.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a quarter of children under the age of 5 don’t get adequate sleep. This is worrying because poor sleep in early childhood has been linked to allergic rhinitis and problems with the immune system, as well as anxiety and depression. There is also emerging evidence that poor sleep in childhood may carry future cardiovascular risks in the form of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

In adolescents, inadequate sleep can have long-term effects on academic performance and mental health. The American Medical Association, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Academy of Pediatrics consider chronic sleep loss in adolescents to be a public health problem. It is a risk factor for substance abuse and mental health problems, as well as more immediate problems such as car crashes and sports injuries.

What is the recommended amount of sleep a child should get?

It varies based on age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • Infants under 1 year: 12-16 hours
  • Children 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
  • Children 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours
  • Children 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours
  • Teenagers 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours

Some kids are tough to get to sleep and others have trouble staying asleep. Here are some tips to help you get your little ones the recommended amount of sleep?

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is important. The routine should ideally start at the same time every night. As soon as the sun goes down, start to “wind down” the household.

  • Dim the lights
  • Stop use of electronics/screens at least an hour before bed
  • Limit caffeine
  • Take a warm bath
  • Do a quiet family activity such as reading a short book
  • If your child wakes up during the night, walk them back to their room with as little commotion as possible
  • Set a wake up time for when the child is allowed to leave his or her room. The child can play quietly until that time if desired.

As parents, we all obviously want our kids to live healthy, active lives, and we want to give them every advantage to ensure they get a good start. Making sure they get enough sleep, and teaching them solid sleep skills, will go a long way to promoting their overall health down the road. 

Get in touch to get your little ones as well as yourselves sleeping well. If you need help in this area, contact Save my Slumber Sleep Consultants (www.savemyslumber.com)