So you have given up caramel mocchacinos, bought a gym membership, and started meditating. But have you thought about adding improving your child’s sleep patterns to your resolutions this year?
Maybe you think sleep should just come naturally and is not something you can change. The great news is: That is a myth! Based on science, and on my own experience working with thousands of sleep deprived infants, toddlers and parents around the world, the fact is the ability to fall and stay asleep are learned behaviors that take a lot of practice and patience.
Here are 10 reasons why should be a priority for your family:
- Brain Development: Infants’ brains grow constantly, including during sleep. But to develop and function properly, growing brains require repeated cycling through all the stages of sleep. New research suggests infants who get a large proportion of their sleep at night perform better at abstract reasoning tests at age 4.
- Cognitive Development: Children who get sufficient sleep are better problem solvers, more creative and flexible thinkers, and have greater academic success. One recent study shows that preschoolers who miss naps are less able to both learn or recall information. Another study of high school students shows that teens with high academic achievement get an average of 30 minutes more sleep per night than students with lower performance.
- Memory: While snoozing, children’s brains are working overtime to file, store, and even discard, what they have experienced and learned. Subconsciously, they transform learned material into active knowledge. This process is especially effective in babies and toddlers, because all knowledge is so new.
- Muscle Development: For both adults and children, muscle development occurs almost exclusively during sleep. If infants and children do not sleep well at night, their muscles cannot develop as they should. What happens is that deep sleep triggers the release of a hormone that promotes normal growth. And it’s the same hormone that boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens-- and adults
- Moods: Brace yourself for the foul mood of a toddler who has missed a nap or the fussiness of an infant who has been passed to too many family members for too long. We can all get a little grouchy when we don’t sleep; but young children and babies have an especially low tolerance for lack of sleep. Recently, a study from the University of Colorado concludes that toddlers with insufficient naps show more anxiety and frustration, less joy and interest, and poor understanding of how to solve problems.
- Behavior: Anyone with a toddler who woke up a little too early, stayed up a little too, or missed a nap knows the dreaded consequences: whines that escalate into a supersonic, ear-shattering, teeth-jarring screams that make you want to run away and join the circus if that were an option. One excellent remedy is adequate sleep. In about 30% of cases, sleep deprived behavior is even misdiagnosed as ADHD.
- Safety: The results of a Drexel University study that found sleep deprivation can cause cognitive impairment similar to that of an intoxicated person were scary, but not surprising. After several nights of losing sleep - even just 1-2 hours - your ability to function suffers as if you haven’t slept at all in 2 days. This seems especially scary for injury prone toddlers who turn living rooms into Olympic stages and think nothing of torpedoing off the sofa when you’re looking the other way.
- Immunity: Not only does sleep energize our body and brain, it also kicks start our immune system. In fact, adequate sleep can help protect children from infections that sometimes plague the rest of the family.
- Obesity: Many studies now link obesity with sleep deprivation. The science points to impaired glucose control and inhibited hormone secretion as the main culprits. Another fact is that kids who get less sleep are often more sedentary, spend more time watching TV, and lack of exercise can add unneeded pounds.
- Your sanity: Need I say more? You just can’t function well for every long when neither you nor your child has good sleeps patterns. You owe it to yourself—and your family-- to start the new year on a healthy sleep track.
Author: Rebecca Kempton, M.D.
After graduating with a B.A. in Psychology from Dartmouth and an M.D. from Cornell Medical School, Rebecca Kempton worked for several years as a medical director for healthcare technology and pharmaceutical companies before becoming certified as an infant and toddler sleep consultant and starting her own business, Baby Sleep Pro. With her three children, aged seven and under, along with thousands of clients globally, Rebecca has honed her sleep coaching skills. Sleep training is never one size fits all! Using a variety of behavioral techniques, she customizes sleep solutions based on what she learns about you, your child, and your family's goals. Rebecca works with clients globally by phone, Skype, and email. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org; visit babysleeppro.com and follow her on facebook.com/babysleeppro and twitter @babysleeppro
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