It’s very likely that I think more, talk more, and maybe even care more about sleep than the average person. That’s ok. It's probably not the cornerstone of your work, like it is for me.
But here’s the deal. Sleep is an essential for all of us. Not just those who are slightly obsessed with it.
Whether or not we think much about sleep, it plays a big factor in our lives and the lives of our children.
I’ve encountered a culture of complacency around sleep lately. (Not only our kids’ sleep, but ours as well!) This could be especially true if no one in your family has ever struggled much with sleep. It’s easy to take it for granted.
Sleep can also feel like an unattainable luxury. When you were expecting your first child, did anyone say to you, “I hope you aren’t a fan of sleeping!”? You’ll hear a lot of comments and jokes about sleepless nights when a baby is on the way. It breaks my heart when I encounter a parent who has accepted loss of sleep as the price of having children. Even when their baby starts waking 5 times per night, it’s often brushed off as a phase that will pass.
Please let me clear something up.
Sleep is not a luxury.
It’s a necessity.
When a child is fighting falling asleep at bedtime and waking up multiple times per night, it’s not because they don’t need as much sleep as we think they do. It’s likely that they need a whole lot more. (They would also greatly benefit from learning the skill of independent sleep, but that's not our focus today...)
Here’s why sleep is so important for our children:
During your child’s first year of life, their brain doubles in size! Sleep is crucial for brain development. During sleep, the brain processes and consolidates information. This helps to create new neural connections and pathways, which lead to better retention of learned skills and abilities. I’m not just talking about night sleep here. Babies who take regular daytime naps are more skilled in recalling language, develop skills, and thinking creatively over those who don’t. 
It likely won’t come as a surprise to you that sleep is essential for physical growth. During sleep, the body produces a growth hormone (hGH) which stimulates tissue growth and repair. Your baby may seem relaxed while they are sleeping, but there’s a whole lot happening on the inside! Cells in the cartilage (chondrocytes) and bones (osteoblasts) receive signals from hGH to increase replication during sleep. This is how bones grow longer, thicker, and stronger.
Sleep is critical for emotional well-being. Children who don't get enough sleep are more likely to experience mood swings, irritability, and have difficulty regulating their emotions (aren't we all?).
According to Dr. Dean Beebe, director of the neuropsychology program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, “Inadequate sleep causes children to have problems regulating the ups and downs in their moods, leading to wider and more rapid reactions to relatively minor events.” He also states that “Children who don’t get enough sleep also don’t pay attention as well, are less likely to think before they act, and don’t seem able to solve problems as well.”
Immune System Function
Did you know that sleep helps boost the immune system? This is true for everyone, from babies to adults. Good sleep helps our bodies fight off infection and illness. Here’s how it works:
While our body is asleep, it’s building up an ammunition supply to fight off viruses and bacteria. It produces and releases various types of immune cells that will identify and target pathogens. It will then initiate an immune response to eliminate them.
Adequate sleep ensures that your child’s system is properly loaded with these essential immune cells to fight off infections.
Better Parent-Child Relationships
Last, but definitely not least, getting enough sleep can improve the quality of your relationship with your child. When your child is regularly getting the sleep they need, they are more likely to be cooperative, cheerful, and responsive. You’ll find that you experience less conflict and frustration with your little one.
I think it’s safe to say that we would all love a happier, more well-behaved child!
So, if I’ve got you convinced that your child need better sleep, the next obvious question is “how can I make that happen”?
Here are five of the biggest changes you can make tonight to start improving your little one’s sleep:
Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Consider including a relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music.
Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends. Our bodies respond well to regular rhythms of sleep.
Create a sleep-friendly environment by ensuring that your baby’s room is cool, dark, and quiet (with the exception of white noise if desired).
Avoid all screens (TV, tablets, smartphones) before bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep.
Encourage your child to engage in physical activity during the day, as this can help them fall asleep more easily at night.
My hope is that you are able to make some changes toward getting your child sleeping better. Establishing healthy sleep habits will benefit them for the rest of their lives.