This week is the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week to provide education and to promote the importance of sleep. I will dedicate my posts this week to sleep in babies through teens. I have attended sleep workshops, panel discussions, I’ve read stacks of books on the topic and I regularly consult with families to identify strategies to improve sleep for the whole family. We’re kicking off Sleep Awareness Week with the benefits and importance of sleep.
Sleep can be one of those things, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” Kids resist naps and bedtimes, but busy, fatigued adults crave a chance to lie down.
For adults and kids alike, sleep is vital for our functioning, our mental state, our health and overall well-being. Some benefits of sleep in the long list include, better quality of life, improved concentration, focus, and physical performance and even increased creativity. Sleep also is shown to help kids earn better grades and reduce ADHD-type symptoms and behaviors. It improves our health having an important role in weight, stress reduction, lowering risk of heart disease, depression, inflammation and the list goes on.
Helping our kids sleep well and learn good sleep habits (also called sleep hygiene) from a young age is giving them a gift and building a healthy foundation. We really value sleep in our family and I swear we go through winter after winter with barely a sniffle because of my crazy-sleep-and-hand-washing Mom tendencies.
Sleep deprivation in parents of infants and in really cranky toddlers is obvious, but can you notice it in subtler forms in your child? Over time, small but constant sleep deficits cause diminishing brain function. Children with higher IQs in every age group studied slept longer. Healthy sleep positively affects neurologic development and seems to be preventive of many learning and behavioral problems. It’s been proven that children who sleep longer during the day have longer attention spans.
I’m often called in when parents are at their wit’s end with a child who only naps for 30-40 minutes, that’s about a sleep cycle, and the baby isn’t putting himself back to sleep, resulting in short, less restorative naps for the child and an exasperatingly long period before the next nap or bedtime for the parents. (Short naps of 20-40 minutes are perfect for grown-ups or teens though!)
Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and a diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says of the importance of sleep:
“Sleep is no less important than food, drink, or safety in the lives of children. Although this may seem apparent, many of us actually do not allow our children to get the critical sleep they need to develop and function properly.It’s certainly not something we do on purpose. As a matter of fact,
we often don’t think much of it, and that is the problem. Missing naps or going to bed a little late may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It all adds up, with consequences that may last a lifetime.To understand the critical nature of sleep to our children’s growth and development, we need to understand more about what sleep does, what healthy sleep is, and what happens when children do not get either the right amount of sleep, the best quality sleep, or both. We also need to understand the role sleep plays in being alert or drowsy, stressed or relaxed, and how that in turn may affect temperament, learning, and social behavior.”
Healthy sleep for children means not only how many hours they get each day and/or night, depending upon the child’s age, but it also means good quality, solid, uninterrupted sleep. There are many charts out there to help you determine the averages for your children’s ages.
Parents know how much smoother life is with a well-rested and pleasant child, and recognizing the tremendous benefits and need for sleep is important in making choices for your family that encourage and protect sound sleep. Then, knowing how to go about achieving healthy sleep comes next. In this weeks’ posts, I will offer some tips and suggestions for you and your family to try. From infants to teens, I’ll give you some guidance on developing good sleep habits in your kiddos.
“Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain’s battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best.” – Marc Weissbluth, MD