Did you know that March is National Sleep Awareness Month?
This is a great opportunity to encourage you to prioritize your little ones’ sleep and take the steps to improve their sleep habits, and I’m going to tell you why that’s so important that it warrants an entire month dedicated to it!
As parents, we tend to get complacent about sleep, both for our kids and for ourselves. As soon as people announce that they have a baby on the way, we hear all of the, “Get ready to not sleep for years!” jokes, and we tend to accept those sleepless nights as the price of having kids. So 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, as I tell my clients, is not a luxury! Babies don’t fight sleep because their systems need less of it than adults. On the contrary, they need a whole lot more! And today, I’d like to tell you exactly why that is.
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
2. PHYSICAL GROWTH
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
3. EMOTIONAL WELL BEING
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.”
4. 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.
5. 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, 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, but I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to learn a little more about what makes
sleep so important, and how you can help your little one get as much as they need. If I’ve helped you
accomplish that, I feel like I’ve done my part 🙂