The Wonderful World of Sleep

Sleep…if I had to think about it, I’d say sleep is probably my favorite occupation.  In Occupational Therapy School I learned that an occupation is any meaningful activity.  Sleep is definitely a meaningful activity for me.  I’ve always loved it. I usually need more than others. I can typically fall asleep wherever, whenever.  And sleep through anything.

Working in the pediatric world, one of the first topics I discuss with parents is sleep.  I have an entire section on sleep on my intake forms. How does your child sleep? Do they nap?  How many naps? What time does your child go to sleep and wake up? Do they wake up during the night? If so, how many times.

Of course, the answers I receive vary depending upon the age of the child. But I often find that many of the children that present with attention difficulties or behavioral problems often lack consistent sleep routines.

So Many Wonderful Things

When my daughter, Paige, was born, I was suddenly thrown into the sleep hygiene world.  I was now experiencing everything firsthand.  Knowing how important sleep is to me, and to development, I wanted to make sure that my child was getting enough.

My older sister (who at the time Paige was born had a pre-teen and teenager) always told me that kids learn when they sleep.  Whether or not this was a scientifically proven fact, I didn’t know.  But I liked the sound of it.  And truth be told, it always seemed true because whenever my nieces woke up from a nap or evening sleeping, they seemed to know more than they did the night before.

Sleep: The Series

Sleep is such a complex topic that rather than delve into everything all at once, I thought I would split it up into a series of posts. I’m going to start with the basics…

  • Why sleep is important
  • What happens when our children sleep
  • How routines are our sleep friends
  • How to learn your child’s cues
  • What lack of sleep can impact

Over the next couple of posts we’ll talk about:

  • Bedtime routines
  • Sleep schedules (newborn to school age)
  • Nap Transitions/Dropping Naps
  • How much sleep should a child get
  • The sleep environment
  • Transitional Objects
  • Sleep Training
  • Sleep Regressions

So, let’s get started.

The Importance of Sleep

Let’s start with this: babies sleep…A LOT! If you’re in the infancy stage you’re going through it right now. If your kids are older, and you think back, you are likely to remember that there was a lot of sleeping happening in the first months of life. What babies are getting, what we all need, is Restorative Sleep.

It is during restorative sleep that your brain contributes to restoring your body and mind, resetting your body for more activity. Your muscles repair, tissues grow, and proteins synthesize.

I guess my sister was right

So, I guess my sister kind of knew what she was talking about when she said that kids learn and grow in their sleep. Cognitive development, memory storing, and learning have been shown to occur during sleep. Sleep plays a role in the consolidation of memories, an important aspect of learning new information.

Physical growth in children is reliant on a protein hormone known as the growth hormone. This hormone, although released throughout the day, has its most intense period of release at the onset of deep sleep. So, kids really do grow in their sleep!!!!

How routines are our sleep friends

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again. Kids CRAVE routines! They THRIVE with routines. The first couple of months with your child is really a free for all regarding routines and schedules. Everyone is just getting used to each other and you are starting to learn your child’s cues.

Once you hit that 4 month mark you can start to think about sleep routines and schedules. Create a bedtime routine.  Every night before your infant/toddler goes down for bedtime put them in their swaddle or sleep sack (swaddle/sleep sack means sleep), choose a book to read or a song to sing.

Then continue to do this every night.

How to learn your child’s cues

As your child grows, they will begin to display specific behaviors and actions that will be an indication that they are tired. Try to pay attention to them. Learning your child’s cues will help you in creating and maintaining sleep schedules that are appropriate for your child.

Some cues may include:

  • Crying/fussiness
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Lack of focus
  • Tantrums
  • Yawning
  • Twirling hair
  • Falling asleep at inappropriate times
  • Irritability
  • Complaining
  • Moodiness
  • Irrational Tantrums
  • Hyperactivity

If your child is experiencing any of the above and it’s close to nap time or bedtime, they are probably trying to tell you something.  If they consistently act like this well before their ‘scheduled’ rest time, you may want to think about changing the schedule to accommodate their needs.

What lack of sleep can impact

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics nearly ¼ of children under the age of 5 don’t get enough sleep. So, what happens then? What does a lack of sleep in a child actually impact?

You can link a lack of sleep in children to:

  • Poor attention or ability to do schoolwork
  • Increase anxiety
  • Increase stress
  • Difficulty learning
  • Weaker immune system
  • Possible depression
  • Possible obesity
  • Stunted growth
Consistency is Key

Sleep needs change depending on your child’s age. But one thing that doesn’t change is the fact that consistency is key. The more consistent you can keep your routine, the happier everyone in your family will ultimately be.

The sleep routines that I created with Paige and Tyler when they were infants continued each night until they each stopped the nighttime bottle and moved out of their cribs into beds.  They each anticipated it every night. It was our routine.

Needs change, Routines adjust

Now that my kids are older our routines changed, but the new routines are done every night. They both know when the nighttime routine begins, it means bedtime is coming.

Try to establish a routine that works for all of you. It may take some time and adjustments, but in the end you will all benefit from it. 😊

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