Making Sleep a Priority: For Children and Parents

Healthy sleep patterns

Every parent is concerned for their family’s well-being. In the chaotic and busy world that we live in, although we have the best intentions to focus on our family’s health and wellness, unfortunately following through with these plans are difficult at times. One aspect of a family’s wellness that should not be compromised is healthy sleep. No matter which way you slice it, everyone needs a healthy sleep patterns in order to get through their day, honor their commitments and accomplish their goals.

I use the term “healthy sleep” for a reason. There is a difference between healthy sleep and what we as child sleep consultants refer to as “junk sleep.” Junk sleep is not beneficial to the sleep cycle and is not mentally or physically restorative. It occurs at times that are not in synchrony with our biological sleep rhythms. As a result, our moods are altered, relationships are compromised and it puts us at an overall risk to properly care for our family.

Children who are not on controlled sleep schedules can develop major sleep problems. Behavior problems are likely to follow. Persistent sleeping problems in children have been linked to psychiatric symptoms in adolescents, hyperactivity in children, and depression in their mothers. “Sleep deprivation is as unhealthy as feeding a child a nutritionally deficient diet.”1 In other words, the same way that junk food negatively affects our body; junk sleep negatively affects our brain.

“The more rested a child, the more they accept sleep and expect sleep.” However, in order for this to occur, parents need to respect sleep. It is essential that children have healthy sleep patterns because it positively contributes to their development, but it is just as important for parents to do the same. When children sleep well, so do their parents. Routines and scheduled bedtimes are just as beneficial to parents as they are to children. Getting an adequate amount of rest is a struggle for many adults, but prioritizing your daily activities is one way to make sure you are home in time to get the rest you need.

The long term effects of a healthy sleep routine implemented by parents of a newborn are essential to investing in that child’s future. Healthy sleep has long term benefits, in addition to immediate ones. It improves a child’s mood, their temperament, and most importantly their cognitive development and performance. As parents, one of the steps we can take to making sure that our child will receive these benefits is to make sure that we are recognizing their signs of fatigue and soothing them to sleep promptly.

This all begins when parents are caring for their newborn. A healthy sleep schedule and soothing routine are essential for every child to learn. Many times parents are so sleep-deprived that they might not be thinking clearly and will do anything just to get their child to sleep. Unfortunately many of these unhealthy and “junk sleep” situations created by desperate parents leave the child overtired and cranky. This is why I feel it is so important to go into parenthood prepared with the knowledge and tools needed to create a healthy sleep schedule, as well as a healthy sleep environment so that you are prepared when the time comes.

In today’s world, it is easy to get caught up in our daily activities and commitments, and unfortunately our family’s rest often gets put on the back burner. When you maintain a healthy nap schedule and your child sleeps well during the day, friends may call you overprotective. They’ll say, “It’s not real life” or “Bring her along so she’ll learn to play with other children” or “You’re really spoiling her.” Don’t let other’s comments keep you from ensuring your baby gets the sleep he/she needs. Every day, we as parents are making investments into our child’s future, it is imperative that healthy sleep is one of them.

Weissbluth, Marc. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: A Step-by-step Program for a Good Night’s Sleep. New York: Ballantine Books, 2005

 

As seen on SleepJunkies.com (January 2014)

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