The Underlying Benefits of Sleep Training
It’s so surprising to me how much ignorance there is around the importance of sleep. Before I got into this specialty, I thought I was a pretty good sleeper and knew the basics of good sleep hygiene. Boy, was I wrong! I naively assumed that if you had a few nights of poor sleep, you could just make up for it over the weekend with little to no effect. While sleep “debt” does accumulate and can be partially alleviated, it is not as black and white as we think. Extra sleep on a Saturday night isn’t going to make up for the multiple five-hour nights you had during the week. Small but constant deficits in sleep length and quality over time have been shown to have escalating and long-term effects on brain function. As important as cumulative hours are when it comes to sleep health, the timing and consolidation of sleep is equally as important.
If sleep is so important for us as adults, quality, consolidated sleep is equally if not more important for our children. Healthy sleep habits begin at birth and stick with us for the rest of our lives. It is important to establish good sleep hygiene early on.
Why is Sleep so Important?
Sleep has been scientifically proven as necessary for brain growth and maturation – something that happens rapidly in infancy and childhood. In order to process all that we learn during the day, we need long periods of sound, consolidated sleep. Think about how much learning little ones do each day and thus how important sleep is to reinforce and imprint that learning. This is why our smallest babies require so much sleep – they are processing everything that they have seen, heard, and experienced in their short time being awake. As children grow, their stamina increases and they are better able to manage longer awake times, but sufficient periods of sleep remain necessary for optimal development.
We also know that children who sleep better at night are more pleasant to be around during the day. They are more patient, less irritable, and generally have an easier temperament than children who frequently don’t get enough sleep. I’m sure you see this anecdotally in your home and don’t need a study to prove it! Healthy sleep certainly appears to positively impact neurological development and function and seems to be integral in alleviating and preventing many of childhood’s behavioral problems.
We know that sleep is important for familial sanity and wellbeing too. Studies have shown that infant sleep problems have a direct impact on maternal depression. We know that infants with depressed mothers often have higher overall cortisol levels which can lead to physical and behavioral issues later in life. We also know that maternal depression is correlated with emotional availability and attachment between infant and parent. Studies confirm that when an infant’s sleep improves, so too does maternal mental health. Many parents are concerned that sleep training will hinder the attachment between themselves and their little one. As is evident, the opposite is actually the case. A happier baby and a happier mom yields a happier, healthier relationship.
The scientific evidence is endless. Sleep is so, so important throughout the lifespan. Starting to implement healthy sleep habits early has a lasting and widespread effect on development, health, and happiness.
If your little one is not sleeping well, what’s stopping you from seeking out help? Let’s work together to make some lasting changes that will have a positive, lifelong impact on you and your little one.