Since I am a certified paediatric sleep consultant I guess that you already know what my answer to this question is…
But could my passion for healthy sleep be clouding my judgment or do I have the hard facts to support my opinion?
I am so happy you asked, because as always, I make sure that any information I share with you is backed by reliable facts and studies.
Before I continue, please don’t get me wrong. As a mother and a certified sleep consultant, I do believe that a healthy, well-balanced diet is a part of your child’s overall well-being. I can even go further and say it is the most important factor when it comes to your child’s well-being.
But sleep is just as high a priority as your child’s diet.
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.)
Over the past few years there has been a huge increase in childhood obesity, and children who are obese more often than not, grow into adults who are obese. And I don’t need to remind you of the issues that go along with obesity – things like diabetes, heart disease, joint inflammation among other things.
So what does sleep have to do with obesity?
A study by the National Institute of Health in the US in 2008 looked at the amount of sleep children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years were getting and then looked at cases of obesity among them. The study found that children who averaged less than 12 hours of sleep per day were more than twice as likely to be obese than those children who slept for 12 hours or more.
Another study done in the UK also yielded similar results to the one done in the US.
With all the health problems that come along with obesity, from a sleep perspective I feel that parents should be prioritising their children’s sleep as they do their diets.
Unfortunately, I hear how new parents are bombarded with advice about sleep that is often scary to hear as a sleep specialist. Some of the advice include:
- “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.”
Many parents often let it slide and some even start believing this. But what if we were saying the same things about a child’s diet? Things like:
- “Babies know what’s healthy to eat. Just follow their lead.”
- “Eating chocolate is totally normal for babies.”
- “Kids will eat when they’re ready. You shouldn’t schedule mealtimes.”
I can almost guarantee that if you were to hear this from someone, you’d immediately tell them how completely ridiculous they sound and truly believe they were lunatics. And you certainly would not be accepting any further parenting advice from them.
So as parents we all want our children to live healthy and thrive and we also want to give them whatever support they need to do this. So helping them get the sleep they deserve is just as important as teaching them about healthy foods and it will assist in them living a healthy life.