I’m sure you can guess what my answer is to this question since, after all, I am a Baby Sleep Consultant. I tend to put a high priority on sleep and am, in my humble opinion, justifiably passionate about its benefits for babies (and mommas and daddies).
But is my passion for sleep clouding my view on this matter, or is there evidence to support my position? Oh, I am SO glad you asked.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that feeding our kids a healthy, balanced, varied diet is essential to their wellbeing. I might even go so far as to say that it’s the most important factor when it comes to our children’s health.
But sleep is about equally important, and that’s not just my personal opinion.
A Public Health Issue
Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue, and kids who are obese grow into obese adults, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the myriad health issues that come along with obesity. (But just in case you’re not familiar, they include diabetes, heart disease, all kinds of cancer, osteoarthritis, and joint inflammation, just to name a few.)
But what does sleep have to do with obesity? Again, I’m glad you asked.
A 2008 study by the National Institute of Health looked at the average number of daily hours of sleep that kids between 6 months and two years old were getting and then compared those results with their occurrences of obesity. The children who got an average of fewer than 12 hours of sleep a day were over twice as likely to be obese than those who slept for 12 or more. A much larger study done in the UK showed similar results.
With all of the health issues, as well as the general quality of life concerns that come along with obesity, it seems to me that sleep should be a major concern for parents.
Sleep Vs. Diet
However, every day I hear people advising new parents with what I’m sure is meant to be reassuring rhetoric. But given the evidence, the advice people are giving new parents gets me really fired up.
- “Babies sleep when they want to sleep. Don’t force it.”
- “Not sleeping is totally normal for a baby.”
- “Just follow your baby’s lead. They know how much sleep they need.”
Can you imagine this same kind of talk if it was concerning baby’s diet? I’m sure lots of people would be getting fired up about it.
- “Babies know what’s healthy to eat. Just follow their lead.”
- “Eating six chocolate cupcakes is totally normal for babies.”
- “Kids will eat when they’re ready. You shouldn’t schedule mealtimes.”
If you heard those words coming out of anybody’s mouth, you would immediately qualify them
Healthy sleep leads to better health
As parents, we all obviously want our kids to live healthy, active lives. We want to give them every advantage to ensure they get a good start in this world. Making sure your kiddos get enough sleep will go a long way to promoting their overall health down the road. (Plus check out how sleep impacts their ability to learn and their mood to help put all the pieces of the puzzle together on how important sleep is.)
One of the ways you can help your kids in the arena of sleep is to help them learn strong independent sleep skills. Teaching our kids to enjoy eating healthy food will set them up for healthy food choices for their lifetime. The same goes for sleep. Learning to sleep independently will set them up to value and prioritize sleep in their lives. Healthy eating and healthy sleeping will help them be able to learn, grow and be their healthiest, happiest selves. And that is a pretty awesome gift to give our kids.
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!