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Importance of Healthy Sleep Habits

How important is sleep? Are we taking our sleep, and that of our children, for granted?  We all seem to cut it short these days so that we can do what we consider is more important!

In this blog, I will share with you some details on the benefits of sleep for our children and why it is important to encourage healthy sleep habits.

In all human beings, irrespective of age, sleep is the act that recharges our batteries - recharges our brain and physical self. Sleep helps us to keep our mind alert and calm. Well rested individuals display much better attention span and concentration ability compared to people who don't get regular and quality hours ofsleep. While true for adults, in many ways, this is even more important for babies and young children.

Sleep is critical for babies and young children because it is not only necessary to restore energy but also for physical growth, to build the body’s immune system, brain development, learning, memory and information processing capabilities.

Sleeping and eating are infact two sides of the same coin.The importance of sleeping becomes quite apparent when you consider the following. 

As parents, we are keenly aware of the importance of healthy, nutritious and balanced meals for our children. We make all efforts to enforce it. We are conscious that if we allow our children to eat junk and unhealthy food,  most of the time, they will become unhealthy, possibly develop a low immune system, and later on will most likely develop some form of health related problems.

Similarly, lack of sleep deprives children of the energy they need to be well adjusted, focussed and happy children. Dr. William Dement, Founder of the Stanford University Sleep Research Centre, found in the extensive research he has conducted, that Sleep is the single most important factor in predicting how long people will live - more influential than diet, exercise or heredity.

In our society, we are just starting to appreciate the importance of sleep for our infants and toddlers. When our children have sleep issues we are told by well-meaning friends and family that our children will grow out of it as they grow up. But the truth of the matter is that in most of these cases, sleep problems continue even when the child is 4 or 5 years old and in some cases much longer than that. Parents then often write off the situation as something they can’t help and have to live with. Typical signs that result from sleep deprivation may include hyper active behaviour, lack of adaptability, frequent tantrums, lack of focus, easily irritable, cranky, lack of interest in learning, etc. The good news is that positive sleep habits can be taught to children even at a young age.

There are several elements that constitute healthy sleep that parents can keep in mind for their children:

Sleep Duration: Making sure our children sleep sufficient hours at night and during naps is the responsibility of the parent and not the child. Children need to be taught good sleep habits just like we teach them good manners, good food habits, etc. What is an adequate amount of sleep differs for the varying ages of a child.  Please refer to "How much sleep does my child need?"

Naps: Naps don’t get the due respect they deserve. Naps help your child get a break and also prevent them from getting overtired by the end of the day. Sleep experts agree that children who nap adequately during the day are better prepared to learn from their environment, better able to focus, and have longer attention spans.

Sleep Consolidation: Consolidated sleep basically means uninterrupted sleep. Some arousals or interruptions during sleep are normal and necessary, especially at a very young age. However, continued sleep fragmentation results in a child who is not well rested. Often times, sleep fragmentation occurs when the child does not know how to fall asleep on their own.

Sleep Regularity: Keeping to a regular sleep schedule is also very important for children. Children respond well to set routines. They settle in easier to sleep when timings are constant rather than ever changing. Parents should aim to make their child sleep a priority and honour the childs sleep time as much as possible.