Sleep is for the weak, or is it?

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Today's post is from Natalie Wiles, mom of two and sleep guru. If you don't think sleep is important, a few minutes on the phone with her is sure to change your mind--and help you get more sleep! I highly value
Natalie's experience and advice and asked her to join up with my site this last month. Her insite and knowledge is sure to be a great addition to this site's posts and sleep consulting.

Sleep is More Important Than You Think 
One of the very first things I mention to new clients is that sleep is not just something that comes as a by-product of a busy day, it’s a physiological and biological need. Over time humans have involved into and out of various behaviors that used to put us as risk, yet we still need to spend a full third of every day sleeping. We are completely vulnerable while in the sleep state, we cannot eat, reproduce, or otherwise do anything useful. Except that our bodies are simultaneously repairing, preparing, and processing wildly while we remain paralyzed in slumber! Are we to think that our body only needs continuous and uninterrupted sleep at the age of 30? 20? 15? No, sleep is indeed imperative for the human body to function properly at every age, from newborns onto toddlers and older children into adulthood.

What Happens When Humans Don’t Get Enough Sleep 
You know what is included under the label of humans? Babies! For every detriment adults suffer from lack of sleep, there is either an infant/child equivalent or the detriment presents itself identically in children. Inadequate sleep in infants and children can result in:
  • Decreased ability to remember what one learns. Studies show that tired children (and babies!) can’t remember what they’ve just learned, because neurons lose their plasticity, becoming incapable of forming the synaptic connections necessary to encode a memory.
  • A dramatically increased risk of obesity. A study in Israel showed that third-graders who got less than eight hours of sleep a night had about a 300 percent higher rate of obesity than those who get a full ten hours of sleep.
  • According to Dr. Weissbluth (author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) infants and toddlers who don't get enough sleep suffer from increased fussiness, shorter attention spans and night terrors.
  • Weissbluth goes on to discuss that many children who are "high needs" are often simply just overtired. Also, over tired babies may not show too many signs off cognitive issues due to lack of sleep, but may, as older children, be unable to complete complex tasks as well as their more adequately-rested peers.
  • In reference to adults in particular, fatigue is the cause 1/5 of all automobile accidents. Further, operating after only 17 hours of straight wakefulness results in the same impairment level of someone who is legally intoxicated. Drunk parenting, anyone? 
Without being able to point to any specific studies, I can personally attest to the fact that chronic sleep deprivation causes me to be more irritable, renders me less able to concentrate, and can cause me to be more susceptible to illness.

Benefits of Adequate Sleep 
  • Numerous studies (1,2,3) show that students who sleep more get better grades. Period. You can extrapolate for yourself why more sleep leads to better grades, but I feel securing in arguing that more sleep leads to an increased ability to both concentrate and remember, something that is just as beneficial to young children as it is to teenagers and adults.
  • A baby who sleeps well is a baby who grows well. Growth hormone in babies and children is released during sleep, so a baby who sleeps an adequate amount is giving his body ample opportunity to grow and develop. Growth hormones in babies are responsible not just for muscular and stature growth in children, but also for much of their cognitive and mental development. 

What You Can Do 
The number one change you can make right now to help your baby sleep better is to understand that sleep is vital for you child's development. Sleep should have the same priority in your life as what your child consumes for food. If you can respect the fact that your baby needs almost twice as much sleep as you do for the first few years of their life, you will start to look for ways to ensure that their sleep takes a spot of top priority in your life. Make no mistake-the amount and type of sleep your child gets as a baby and toddler will almost certainly affect their health and quality of life for most, if not all, of their lives. If you do the work and make the necessary sacrifices, your baby will have a leg up in school, work, and personal relationships, and will be more apt to make better choices down the road.

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