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Written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
10 December 2020

Why Sleep is So Important

Sleep is a subject which is, and has always been, a bit of an enigma. While scientists may not agree on the precise benefits of sleep just yet, everyone from professors to new parents can agree that getting enough of it is a must. Here are some benefits of sleeping well.

Ability and readiness to Learn

It's common knowledge that a lack of sleep impairs one's ability to concentrate and retain new knowledge.

Learning and memory are divided into 3 functions: acquisition, consolidation and recall. Meaning that first you would need to receive the information, then have it committed into your memory and then be able to access it when you need to.

Now acquisition and recall can only take place while we are awake. However consolidation occurs during sleep by reinforcing the neuronal connections that make up our memories. The research suggests that getting enough sleep is crucial to learning and memory.

If you don't get enough sleep, you won't be able to retrieve the information you've learned the next time you need it, no matter how hard you try to concentrate and memorise it.

Your children will spend the first 18–20 years of their lives in school, so a good sleep schedule is absolutely vital if you want them to be able to retain all that information.

Mood benefits

We're all familiar with the irritability and shorter fuse that comes with a lack of sleep. Partially sleep-deprived participants reported higher levels of anger, distress, stress and mental fatigue, according to a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. This is of course not breaking news as we all feel the effects on your mood and behaviours when we are sleep deprived.

Again, this is a mystery, but some studies have found that a lack of sleep stimulates the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for anger, stress and fear. An overly stimulated amydala result in a person feeling more stress, defensiveness and anger toward others, and to being more prone to emotional breakdowns.

Health benefits

Apart from eating and breathing, there is arguably nothing more beneficial to your health than getting sufficient sleep.

While scientists may not agree on the precise benefits of sleep just yet, everyone from professors to new parents can agree that getting enough of it is a must.

“Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood,” says Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institute of Health in the USA. “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies. People who regularly get between 7-9 hours of sleep see significantly lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, infections, depression, diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, heart disease, heart attacks, and heart failure. They also report higher satisfaction with their sex lives, better performance at work, and take fewer sick days than people who typically sleep less than 7 hours a night."

So while there are aspects of sleep which remain an enigma, it is clear that good sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and joyful existence.

The thing is that once a baby is born, uninterrupted sleep becomes this elusive luxury which you are no longer privy to. You are pulled out of bed multiple times in the night, to soothe your baby back to sleep, and you might have been told that that's life as a parent and to get used to it because it is going to last several years.

When it comes to myths about parenting, this is the one I think needs to be put to rest the most.

You can sleep well even after becoming a parent.

In addition, your baby needs sleep even more than you do.

While those tiny bodies are apparently asleep, a flurry of activity is actually taking place internally. All sorts of miraculous, intricate systems are at work laying the foundation for your baby's growth and development. And this will continue through adolescence. Growth hormones are being secreted to help baby gain weight and sprout up, cytokines are being produced to fight off infections and produce antibodies, and so on.

The workhorse is Nature, after all. Your baby only needs to lay down, eyes closed, and sleep.

I'd like to make it clear to all those who tell new parents that sleep deprivation is something they need to just accept :  you have zero knowledge in that area. That's not simply bad advice; it's destructive. It discourages parents from addressing their baby's sleep problems because they're told it's just part of being a parent.  And that is detrimental to the mental and physical well being of the whole family.

A baby who is having problems sleeping is not developing as normally as they could be. It's just like getting jaundice or an ear infection. It's a medical problem with a treatment, so anyone urging you to tough it out for the next six years is giving you bad advice.

A baby who has poor sleep habits and broken sleep, has a good chance of growing into an adult who is still does not sleep well. This is a concern, given the variety of serious health issues which go along with sleep deprivation. So there is really no better gift you can give your baby, than to teach him or her to how sleep well. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Article written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
Based in Singapore
Trained in the Sleep Sense Program

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