Did you know that March is National Sleep Awareness Month? Or is that something that sleep nerds like me only celebrate?
Either way, the fact remains that this is an excellent opportunity to encourage you to prioritize your little ones’ sleep and take steps to improve their sleep habits.
I’m going to tell you, in great detail, why that’s so important that it warrants an entire month dedicated to it!
As parents, we tend to get complacent about sleep for our kids and ourselves. As soon as people announce that they have a baby on the way, we hear all of the “Hope you’re not a fan of sleeping!” 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. We’ll get back to sleeping once they’ve grown up.
But sleep, as I tell my clients so often, is not a luxury! Babies don’t fight sleep because their systems need less than their adult counterparts. But, on the contrary, they need a whole lot more! And today, I’d like to tell you exactly 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.
Not surprisingly, sleep is also essential for physical growth. During sleep, the body produces growth hormone (HGH), which stimulates tissue growth and repair. So even though the body appears relaxed when Baby sleeps, a lot is happening inside!
Cells in the cartilage called chondrocytes and cells in bones called osteoblasts receive signals from hGH to increase replication. This is a fancy way of explaining how bones grow longer, thicker, and stronger.
Sleep is critical for emotional well-being. For example, babies who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to experience mood swings and irritability and have difficulty regulating 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 broader 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 boost the immune system, helping babies (and adults) 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 identify and target pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, and initiate 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 regularly gets 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 read my blog even semi-regularly, these won’t come as a surprise to you, but for the uninitiated among you, here are five of the biggest changes you can make tonight to start helping your little one get the sleep they need.
So happy Sleep Awareness Month, everyone! I know that most of you aren’t as obsessed with the subject as I am. Still, I’m grateful you’ve taken the time to learn 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 to further the cause.
Erin Neri - Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Owner of To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting since 2016.
To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting
Providing families the tools & support they need to get their little ones sleeping through the night and napping like champs! Everyone has more fun when they are well rested!
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