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Is sleep really as important as diet?

I am pretty sure that you can guess what my answer is going to be to this question, since I am, after all, a peadiatric sleep consultant. I always put a high priority on sleep and I believe justifiably so.

I know what you are thinking, that my passion for this subject could be clouding my stand point. Do I have any actual evidence that it is?

I don’t want you to misunderstand, I do believe that our Little Darling’s should be fed a healthy and well-balanced diet. I would probably say that it is the most important element when it comes to our children’s health.

However, I believe that sleep is, if not equally as important, a very close second.

Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue that is on the rise year after year, and kids who are obese grow into obese adults. I am sure that you are aware of the many health issues that come along with obesity. To name just a few there is diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and joint inflammation.

I know, what does sleep have to do with obesity?

A 2008 study in the USA by the National Institute of Health researched the average number of daily hours of sleep that children between 6 months and 2 years were getting, The institute then compared the results with the levels of obesity. The children who got an average of less than 12 hours of sleep a day were over 2x as likely to be obese than those who slept for 12 or more. A much larger study done in the UK showed similar results.

Therefore, due to the risk of health issues, I believe that sleep SHOULD be a major issue for parent’s when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their Little Darling’s.

However, daily I will hear people advising new parents with what I’m sure is meant to be reassuring rhetoric, but I must admit, given the evidence, I find it really upsetting.

“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?

“Babies know what’s healthy to eat. Just follow their lead.”

“Eating chocolate is totally normal for babies.”

If you heard those words coming out of anybody’s mouth, you would immediately disregard what they are saying.

As parents, we all obviously want our children to lead healthy, active lives, and we want to give them every advantage to ensure they get a good start. Making sure they get enough sleep, and teaching them solid sleep skills, will go a long way to promoting their overall health down the road.

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