Blog Post 38-Brain Health

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain,
A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep.

If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.

Brain Health

Public awareness of what constitutes health or what it means to live a healthy life style comes from different sources. Here are some examples:

• Heart health and Weight health.

In addition to the federal government setting nutritional standards and defining what is meant by a balanced diet, the food industry uses the fear of heart attacks or heart disease to sell low-cholesterol and low-fat foods.  Physical activity is good for the heart and the gym and exercise industry uses this fact in their messaging to sell their products and activities.  Similarly, obesity is a well-known heart health risk factor and the gym and exercise industries plus the diet industry market the heart health benefit of weight loss.  So everyone is aware that eating and exercising right promotes heart health.

  • Skin health.

There are common skin health medical concerns such as eczema, acne, and sun-light induced skin cancer.  Treatment and prevention of these medical issues is a big business.  A much bigger busines is the skin cosmetic industry selling creams, lotions, ointments, masks, gels, washes, moisturizers, soaps, and other products to achieve a healthy skin or a skin with a healthy or youthful glow.  So everyone is aware that it is important to take care of your skin.

  • Nutritional health.

In the past, there were medical diseases, such as rickets or pernicious anemia, caused by vitamin or mineral deficiencies.  Vitamins were considered to be miracles because they cured these diseases.  Today, vitamin-enriched foods have mostly eliminated these vitamin deficient diseases.  Nevertheless, the vitamin and supplement industries successfully promote their products for a wide variety of health concerns.  So everyone is aware of the health benefits of vitamins and minerals in their diet.

  • Lung health and Air quality.

Lung cancer and asthma are related to smoking and air quality.  All of our Weather apps on our smart phones include an air quality rating. The government has air quality standards to regulate industrial air pollution and automobile exhausts and warnings about cigarette smoking to protect lung health.  Groups such as The American Cancer Society have educated many about the hazards of tobacco products.  So everyone knows that breathing in polluted air or smoking is unhealthy.

  • Water quality.

Publicity regarding recent tragedies regarding lead in municipal tap water and the controversy regarding BPA from plastic water and baby bottles has heightened the public’s awareness of water quality.  The bottled water industry promotes healthy water and enriched water.  Their marketing has made everyone aware of the importance of healthy water.

BRAIN HEALTH and SLEEP QUALITY

Why is it that organs such as the heart, skin, and lungs have achieved high public awareness status regarding health, but not the brain?  Why is it that features such as weight, nutrition, air and water quality have achieved high public awareness regarding health, but not sleep?

The government and professional societies have regulations prescribing the amounts and timing of sleep for commercial airline pilots, doctors-in-training, and long-haul truck drivers. As a result, public safety is enhanced, but these rules operate behind the scenes in everyday commerce.  Blog Posts 1 through 5 describe the importance of sleep for the United States of America Department of the Army in Chapter 11 of Field Manual 7-22 titled “Holistic Health and Fitness”.  However, this Field Manual was published only recently, October, 2020.  The Army emphases that healthy sleep is necessary for a healthy brain.  But the general public is largely unaware of the connection between healthy sleep and a healthy brain.  For adults, sleep aids and some hotel efforts to promote pillow menus or mattresses for more restorative sleep, fuel the commercial sleep industry.  But, in general, for children, healthy sleep, as a contributor to a healthy brain, is largely an unappreciated health benefit. 

Promoting healthy sleep for children of all ages may be especially important because the developing brain might be more sleep-sensitive than the mature adult brain regarding concurrent behavior, learning, and emotional expression.  Additionally, throughout childhood, during brain development, healthy sleep might improve the quality of brain development with permanent life-long benefits.  In other words, healthy sleep throughout childhood may help hard-wire the developing brain to produce long-term brain health benefits.

However, when you make changes to help your child sleep better, relatives and friends, who are unaware of the importance of healthy sleep for a healthy brain, might oppose or resist your efforts because early bedtimes for your child or protecting your child’s naps might reduce social interaction between them and your family.

DO I HARM MY CHILD IF I LET HIM CRY AT NIGHT TO LEARN SELF-SOOTHING?           

• Studies show that children are not harmed (Blog Post 24) when extinction or graduated extinction is used. Blog Post 25.

IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO MAKE YOUR CHILD CRY TO HAVE A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP

WHAT A PARENT CAN DO

• Accept the fact that your friends and relatives may not be aware of why a healthy brain depends on healthy sleep. Blog Post 38.

• Ignore myths such as sleep regressions or that teething or growth spurts disrupt sleep or that late bedtimes are fine because your young child is an “owl”. Blog Posts 36 and 37

• Focus on timing: The time when drowsy signs (Blog Post 9) begin to appear is the time when you start your soothing to sleep. Blog Posts 2835.

• It may be difficult to begin or choose a sleep solution. Blog Posts 23 and 26.  A Community Sleep Consultant may be helpful. Blog Post 27.

• No television or digital electronic devices in child’s bedroom (Blog Post 21), if possible. Blog Post 22.

• Some babies sleep better than other babies. Develop coping strategies to reduce stress if your baby has extreme fussiness or crying.  Plan to encourage self-soothing skills at 2 to 4 months of age. Blog Post 20.

•  ‘No Cry’ sleep solutions (‘Fading’ and ‘Check and Console’) may solve sleep problems. Blog Post 19

•  Communicate with each other and coordinate nighttime parenting practices.  Consider delaying your response to nondistress sounds your baby makes at night by 5-10 seconds, especially after 3 months of age.  Blog Post 18.

•  Encourage partner to help care for baby daytime and nighttime.  Be emotionally available at bedtime.  Seek help if your child is not sleeping well and there are symptoms of anxiety or depression for yourself or partner.  Blog Post 17.

•  Encourage self-soothing; the earlier the better.  Consider leaving the room after putting your child down to sleep. Provide opportunity for naps based on drowsy signs.  Encourage partner to help care for the baby daytime and nighttime. Blog Post 16.

•  Plan for healthy sleep by focusing on sleep quality, not just sleep quantity. Provide opportunities for naps. Blog Post 15

•  Make a sleep plan that you are comfortable with; be flexible and tolerant.  Blog Post 14.

·  Become more aware of the difference between how you feel when well-rested versus mildly sleepy. Blog Post 13.

·  Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule.  Blog Post 12.

·  Try to not respond immediately to every quiet sound your baby makes at night.  Blog Post 11.  

·  Practice soothing to sleep and bedtime routines, every night, if possible. Blog Post 10.

·  Watch for drowsy signs. Blog Post 9.

·  Respect your child’s natural sleep rhythms.  Blog Post 8.

·  Encourage an early or earlier bedtime (even a slightly earlier bedtime may produce better sleep.  Blog Post 6) especially at 6 weeks.  Blog Post 7.

∙ Recognize that a healthy brain requires healthy sleep. Blog Posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 38.

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