Thursday, June 30th, 2011
In my last two posts, I presented recent evidence that, on average, kids today are getting an hour less sleep per night than prior generations, and that shortened sleep in toddlerhood leads to metabolic changes that increase fat gain and signal risk for type 2 diabetes.
The accumulation of study after study documenting sleep loss in childhood and risk for serious physical disease suggests to me that we (experts and parents alike) have been debating the wrong issue when it comes to sleep. So much emphasis is given to debating the pros and cons of the various sleep methods, I think we are all missing the big point: what really matters is not the method, but rather the outcome of getting our children enough sleep.
The reality is that there is a wide spectrum of sleep training methods — cry-it-out, co-sleeping, and nearly infinite variations that combine some elements of each. Rather than debate the finer points of these approaches, I suggest that parents try whatever methods seem to suit them and their children best, and then determine if the chosen method is getting their child the required amount of sleep (graded by age group) on a consistent basis. If it is, then a parent has found the best method for them. If it isn’t, then the method should be revisited and revised. The only thing that matters in the end is the outcome, because we are in the midst of a sleep epidemic that can be observed in toddlers, children and adolescents. And the many potential consequences of sleep deprivation do not bode well for our children’s long term health.
I remember when we used to call sleep methods “bedtime routines.” I still like this phrase — it sounds soothing and purposeful. Rather than debate sleep methods, I’d love to know what parents are doing for their children’s bedtime routines, especially if they are finding that it is getting their children enough sleep. Remember, the issue is not to critique other parents’ routines - I want to know what works in your household. The fact is that if we can get as many parents as possible to find their own ways to ensure their children are well-rested, then we can start to combat the sleep epidemic that is putting more and more children’s health in jeopardy. And, by the way, if you evaluate your own situation, and determine that your child is not getting enough sleep, I suggest you do what I did when my then 2-year-old daughter rebelled and resisted sleep (night after night and then week after week) — I sought out the expertise of a sleep clinic, which worked wonders (and was covered by insurance)!