I’m sure you can guess what my answer is to this question, since I am, after all, a pediatric sleep consultant. I tend to put a high priority on sleep and am, in my humble opinion, justifiably passionate about its benefits for babies and young children. But, is my passion for sleep clouding my view on this matter, or is there evidence to support my position? I'm glad you asked!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that feeding our kids a healthy, balanced, varied diet is essential to their well-being. I might even go so far as to say that it’s the single most important factor when it comes to our children’s health. However, I would argue that sleep is, if not equally as important, a very close contender.
Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue, and kids who are obese are more likely to be obese in adulthood. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the myriad of 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 occurrences 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 hours a day. A much larger study done in the UK showed similar results. One reason for this correlation is because sleep plays a big role in hormone production. Lack of sleep has been linked to an increase in the hormone ghrelin, which triggers hunger, and a decrease in the hormone leptin which reduces hunger and helps us know when we are full. These two hormones being out of balance can lead to overeating. 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.
Obesity is not the only concern with sleep deprivation in childhood. Children who are not getting enough sleep, or poor quality sleep, are more likely to have behavioral problems too. They are less able to regulate their moods and more likely to be overactive and more impulsive (meaning they can’t follow instructions). Not to mention an increase in moodiness (and we can all agree no baby or toddler needs MORE moodiness)!
Despite all of these side effects from lack of sleep, every day I hear people advising parents with what I’m sure is meant to be reassuring rhetoric, but I must admit, given the evidence, I find unsettling:
“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 a baby’s diet:
“I have errands to run this afternoon, so the baby will just have to miss a meal today.”
“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 think they were crazy, and you certainly wouldn’t listen to their advice on your kids.
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.
The bottom line is, sleep deprivation in early childhood is not the norm, and is not healthy. If you know your child is not getting the quality sleep they need, but aren’t really sure how to help them start sleeping better, use the link below to schedule your FREE evaluation call to find out how Dream Factory Sleep Solutions can help you reach your sleep goals for your child.
Not sure if your child is sleeping enough? Here is a helpful guide:
0-10 Weeks Old: 16 - 18 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period
11 Weeks - 5 Months Old: 14 - 16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period
5 Months - 1 Year Old: 13 - 16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period
1 - 3 Years Old: 11 - 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period
3 - 5 Years Old: 10 - 13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period
5 - 13 Years Old: 9 - 11 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period