Why Is Sleep Important for Our Children?

Everyone needs sleep to be healthy. Our bodies and brains need restorative sleep , to keep every system functioning well. Sleep should be a priority for parents and children.

Restores the brain

When you are exhausted, it is a struggle to think clearly.  The brain needs sleep to function well. I know from my own experience that sleepless nights (usually caused by the many babies I have cared for)  make me feel dull. My thoughts feel like they are trying to move through thick mud. Sleep experts recommend not to make any life-changing decisions such as job transfers or major purchases when you are sleep-deprived. You will have difficulty seeing the possible consequences of a decision.

toddler sleeping wearing seat belt in booster seat

Sometimes I hear desperate parents tell me they drive around as the only way to help their child sleep. I do not recommend that. If the child is waking frequently, most likely the parent is waking frequently also.  An exhausted parent is at risk of falling asleep while driving or of having very poor driving judgment.

AAA did a research study on the effects of driving while sleep deprived.  ” The  AAA study found drivers who miss two to three hours of sleep a day more than quadruple their risk of getting in a crash, compared to drivers who sleep for seven hours.” I had a one sleep deprived, but wise Dad, tell me that he started using public transportation to get to work because he did not trust himself driving.

Lack of sleep also effects the mental ability of children.  An overtired baby has difficulty thinking and learning. Every baby processes a lot of new information each day. Learning moves into long-term memory during sleep. It is difficult for an exhausted child to learn and then remember the numerous skills they must master in their first couple of years. Learning becomes a struggle for a tired child.

Studies have shown that sleep promotes brain development in babies. We all want our baby to be smart. The best way for that to become a reality is to make sleep a priorty for your baby.

Restores the body

Lack of sleep causes health problems  for adults and children. Body systems have many functions they can only perform during sleep. The body needs that time to restore and repair itself. Research connects sleep deprivation to health issues like heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, depressed immune system, and obesity in adults.

A child’s body grows while they are sleeping.  I  recently worked with two different families because their babies were waking frequently.  A tired child cannot eat well. Both of these babies would only eat if they were partially asleep. Each baby fell asleep after eating a small amount to satisfy their hunger. The babies ate enough to survive but not to grow.

I worked with both families to help their baby sleep better. The rested babies had more energy and their eating improved. One baby gained 2 pounds within 3 weeks! The parents and doctor were thrilled. The other baby went from eating one ounce per frequent feedings to eating 4 ounces every 3-4 hours.

Lack of sleep depresses the function of the immune system. A strong immune system fights the germs and viruses a child is exposed to. Well-rested children do not get sick as frequently.

Do your child and yourself a favor by making sleep a priority. Exhaustion is not fun or healthy for either the parent or the child.

Helping Babies Sleep

Arlene Fryling

Arlene is a registered nurse and certified sleep consultant for children 0-5 years. She has cared for premature, sick, and many healthy babies. For over 15 years she has taught expectant parents how to care for their newborns through classes teaching basic baby care, infant massage classes, and moderating support groups for new moms as they deal with parenting issues.

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