How does sleep affect a child’s growth?

Almost every parent will recall that, as soon as they had their baby, they were bombarded with information (provided by doctors, nurses, relatives, or friends) on the importance of breast or bottle-feeding regularly to guarantee a proper caloric intake for their child’s growth. Babies are weighed during every post-natal check and doctors monitor their curve to make sure that they are growing normally.

Yet, I am pretty sure that almost nobody told them how many hours of sleep their baby would need every day. Which could lead us to think that sleep is less important than diet. But is this really the case?

Sure, I could be biased. After all, I am a pediatric sleep consultant and I tend to put a high priority on sleep and the benefits it has for children. But I strongly believe that sleep is as important as feeding our kids a healthy, balanced, varied diet. In fact, it is essential to their well-being.

Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue, and kids who are obese grow into obese adults. I believe most of you already know about the many health issues that come along with obesity. But let me just name a few: diabetes, heart disease, all kinds of cancer, osteoarthritis, joint inflammation, etc.

And what does sleep have to do with obesity? More than you might think.

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 compared those totals with their occurrences of obesity. The children who got an average of less than 12 hours of sleep a day were over twice as likely to be obese than those who slept for at least 12 or more. An even larger study done in the UK showed almost the same results.

It seems to me that, considering all the health issues and the complications in the quality of life that come along with obesity, sleep should be a major concern for parents.

However, I can’t count how many times I have heard reassuring rhetoric just like the following when it comes to babies who don’t sleep:

“Babies sleep when they want to sleep. No need to force it.”

“Not sleeping is totally normal for a baby.”

“Babies can autoregulate and just know how much sleep they need.”

But can you imagine this same kind of talk concerning baby’s diet?

“Kids will eat when they’re ready. No need to schedule mealtimes.”

“Eating chocolate is totally normal for babies.”

“Babies can autoregulate and just know what’s healthy to eat.”

I am pretty sure you would never follow such advice and would probably qualify whoever has these ideas as lunatic.

As parents, we all want our kids to live healthy, active lives, and we do whatever is in our power to give them every tool they need starting from day one. Making sure they get enough sleep, and helping them acquire solid sleep skills, will go a long way to promoting their overall health both now and in the future.

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