Posts Tagged ‘ children’s sleep ’

Sleep Outcomes – Not Sleep Methods – Matter Most

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

childsleepingIn 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)!

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Sleep Loss And Fat Gain: The Link Between Two Childhood Epidemics

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

In my last post, I referenced new evidence confirming that children today suffer from a severe sleep loss compared to previous generations. One reason for concern is that new studies are showing how lack of adequate sleep in childhood leads to increases in body fat — which is a first step toward risk for type 2 diabetes (another related epidemic) as well as heart disease.

What’s especially troubling is that this process starts early in life. Two new studies have used longitudinal designs to show that short sleep (less than the minimum recommended amount of sleep for a given age) in toddlers leads to increases in body fat at age 7. In one report, consistently short sleepers at age 2 were shown to have a higher fat mass index (FMI) at age 7. Another paper showed similar findings linking short sleep at age 2 to increased Body Mass Index (BMI) at age 7 — the authors concluded that extending sleep by an additional hour per night would lead to a significant decrease in BMI reflecting a reduction in fat deposits. Importantly, both of these studies accounted for a number of confounding factors that could have skewed the results, suggesting direct links between sleep loss and fat gain.

Why is this information so important for parents? A third study has taken the research a step further by demonstrating that short sleep is linked with direct changes in body functioning, such as altered insulin levels, that signal early risk for type 2 diabetes. This report also suggested that inconsistent amounts of sleep from night to night was also bad for kids’ metabolism on top of the effects of short sleep. And there was one more important take-home message for parents: ¬†a little catch-up sleep on the weekend was a good thing for kids and helped protect their bodies from the effects of short sleep.

As a parent, I know first-hand that regulating a child’s sleep is not easy (and sometimes becomes very hard). But putting as much effort into this as possible — especially in terms of making sure minimum sleep requirements are met consistently — can have an important positive effect on your child’s health and well-being.

In my next post, I will take on the issue of sleep methods, and provide a surprising perspective on how to determine the best sleep method for your child.

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Growing Up In The Age Of Sleep Deprivation: Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

It can be hard to get scientists to agree on things. But these days there is consensus that kids these days are not getting enough sleep, and a recent paper confirms this.

Researchers reviewed published data on sleep duration for 5-18 year olds, gathered between 1905 and 2008. The published papers represented data from 690,747 youth drawn from 20 countries.

They found a notable and systematic decline in average number of hours of sleep over this 103 year period. The net result is that children today sleep, on average, 1 hour less per night. This pattern was especially true for youth in the US, Europe, Canada, and Asia.

It’s important to keep in mind that while 1 hour per night may not sound like a lot, this adds up to a lot of sleep loss over days, weeks, months, and years — all of which can take a toll on the body, especially in childhood and adolescence.

There are certainly individual differences in sleep — some kids need more, some can get by with less. A good start point for parents is to consider the guidelines for different age groups such as those published by the National Sleep Foundation. Note that there are ranges for each age that try to account for the innate differences between kids. So if your child is getting less sleep than the recommended lower limit, it may be worthwhile to discuss this with your pediatrician to determine if you should try to promote longer sleeping

Lack of sleep can have many effects on behavior and health. In my next post, I will present the findings of two recent papers that demonstrate how shortened sleep in toddlerhood can have an effect on unhealthy increases in fat mass later in childhood — a potential first step toward risk for diabetes and heart disease.

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