As a pediatric sleep consultant, obviously I believe that sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle. But, I am also a mom, a fitness enthusiast, and a firm believer that nutrition has huge impacts on our all around health.
I feel that most people are at least somewhat aware of the risks of unhealthy eating habits...
Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue, and often kids who are obese may grow into obese adults. Obesity contributes to major health concerns such as diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis just to name a few.
But what does sleep have to do with obesity?
A 2008 study by the National Institute of Health looked at the average number of daily hours of sleep that kids between 6 months and two years old were getting, and then compared those results with their occurences of obesity. The children who got an average of less than 12 hours of sleep a day were over twice as likely to be obese than those who slept for 12 or more. A much larger study done in the UK showed similar results.
With all of the health issues, as well as the general quality of life concerns that come along with obesity, it seems to me that sleep should be a major concern for parents.
However, every day I 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 unfair.
“Babies sleep when they want to sleep.”
“Not sleeping is totally normal for a baby.”
“Just follow your baby’s lead. They know how much sleep they need.”
"Children will eventually sleep".
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.”
“Not eating is totally normal for a baby.”
“Kids will eat when they’re ready. You shouldn’t schedule mealtimes.”
If you heard the same advice given regarding your child's diet as you do with their sleep, you would hopefully dismiss it immediately. I mean, if I follow my kids lead on what is healthy, they would only eat pancakes, chocolate milk, and french fries. I think we can all agree that these foods are great in moderation, but do not make for a healthy lifestyle.
As parents, we all obviously want our kids to live 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.
So, back to the original question... what is more important diet or sleep? A healthy diet is definitely important, but sleep is, if not equally important, a close contender.
"Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together"