Well-rested kids are happier, healthier and more successful – and those healthy sleep habits start early in life!
Moms and dads are well aware of the effects that lack of sleep has on the behavior of their kids. You know, the crankiness, the surly attitude, and the gruesome “no” response to every suggestion and request? Not even a mountain of animal crackers or video games can smooth the jagged edges of those moods.
But one night of disrupted sleep is not the same as night after night. According to experts, the repercussions of chronic childhood tiredness are more serious than the day to day drama of raising kids though. Lack of sleep can impact a child’s health and development in significant ways, from their ability to fight common illness to hyperactivity to health issues as they grow into adults.
6 ways bad sleep habits can affect a child’s health
Sleep is a family priority and fostering healthy sleep habits in children provides a lifetime of benefits.
In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Marc Weissbluth, MD, provides insightful comments on the functions of sleep. “Sleep is the power source that keeps the mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges a child’s brain battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases attention, allowing a child to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time.”
- Sleep builds brain cells. Sleep directly affects a child’s cognitive development. The human brain is a work in progress until age 21 – consistently sufficient sleep will help them reach their full potential.
- Sleep improves immunity. Insufficient sleep weakens the immune system’s ability to fight off illness – short-term, chronic and acute health problems.
- Sleep repairs cells. Similar to what happens in adults, sleep is crucial for repairing and rebuilding cells, every single night. In children, sleep plays a key role in releasing growth hormones, improving immunity, strengthening of the nervous system, metabolism and weight management.
- Sleep improves mood AND memory. Insufficient sleep impairs memory consolidation (i.e. the ability to store information and then recall it at a later date), emotion stabilization, school performance and the capacity to learn.
- Sleep enriches neuro-development. Short sleep duration in the first three years of life is associated with hyperactivity/impulsivity and lower cognitive performance on neuro-developmental tests at age 6, according to the medical journal
- Sleep helps with healthy weight maintenance. An analysis published in Obesity found that children with shorter sleep duration have greater odds (58%) of becoming overweight or obese. A systematic review reported the likelihood of obesity increased to 92% when children with the shortest sleep duration were compared to those with longer sleep duration.
Happy bedtimes 101 for parents
No matter how old their children are, parents can set them up for success to last a lifetime by establishing positive attitudes around sleep. It’s never too early to teach children about the importance of sleep. Routine and consistency are key – a regular bedtime strengthens circadian rhythms and helps ensure adequate time for sleep. Kids will learn what to expect and bedtime will become a non-negotiable part of the day.
Support routine and consistency with positive attitudes around sleep. Kids should understand its benefits and how it has the power to make them better students, better friends and better athletes. Sleep even leads to greater happiness and less depression as they grow.
A child’s bedroom should be presented as a place that is special. Let them choose their own pillows, blankets and comforters so that they have a sense of ownership and a deeper connection to it. Let kids choose their wall color, too, but reserve the right to veto. The best shades are neutral and soothing, like green, blue, pink and lavender. If your child doesn’t like total darkness, install a small night light with a timer so they can turn if off overnight.
Allow kids to wind down before bedtime – at least 30 minutes. Be firm about enforcing bedtime and staying in bed. Parents should avoid using the child’s bedroom for time outs or punishment as it can create a negative impression that impacts their attitude about sleep.
Far more crucial than its name implies, a bedtime routine serves a critical function in the achievement of healthy sleep. Children thrive on predictable and structured routines that help them feel safe and secure. Familiar routines provide the security of knowing what to expect, helps foster a sense of responsibility in the child while helping them fall asleep on their own.
If your child has trouble sleeping, discuss issues with your child’s pediatrician or healthcare professional or seek the help of a Sleep Doctor. We know a new mattress can’t solve all the sleep problems around the world (though we wish it could!) but if your child is sleeping on an old or hand-me-down mattress, it might be time to correct that.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Can a good night’s sleep make you smarter?
- The best mattress for the ages and stages of life
- A good mattress protector and why you can’t live without it