In recent times, we have become more attentive to conversations about immunity and long-term health. However, these maintenance tips often exclude the more natural litmus test for human health: sleep.
Especially when it comes to our children, sleep deprivation is gravely underestimated with troubling consequences. We focus more on nurturing independence in our infants, often refusing to bedshare or, help babies and toddlers get age-appropriate naps by staying close or holding them, which lengthens their sleep by offering them safety and warmth of your body. From the perspective of baby sleep experts, it is absurd to consider these ‘bad habits’. Not only are these the very basic needs that children outgrow at their own pace, but the lack of parental management of a sleep routine and a proper sleep environment is also detrimental to their physiological and psychological development.
This short excerpt from Sleeping Like a Baby talks about the ties between sleep and your baby’s immunity.
What exactly is the connection between immunity and sleep? Studies have repeatedly proved that loss of sleep impairs our immune function. This is because when we sleep, our body is busy recovering, repairing and processing the stress and information absorbed through the day. Sleep charges us up to full strength for the next day.
We know that babies need to be fed right for good immunity. But sleep is just as important to build immunity in babies right from birth.
With immature immune systems, young children often fall ill with bouts of fever, cough and cold, especially once they enter school life or come in frequent contact with other children who may be carriers of infection. But age-appropriate sleep can act as a major deterrent to frequent illness. The first few years of life are crucial in developing a strong internal system and robust gut health, and restful sleep is the key. Important hormones are released for growth and development during the time that children are asleep.
A report by the US-based Sleep Foundation states:
‘Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye. Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your body’s ability to respond.’
Lack of sleep also deprives kids (and adults) of natural killer cells and proper immune response, weakening the system. Research has shown that children who do not get adequate naps or who sleep less at night are more susceptible to picking up infections than those who get enough sleep and are well-rested.
As the sun sets our bodies are biologically designed to wind down, which is why it’s important to have an early bedtime for children—to allow the body to follow its natural circadian rhythm. When children are not put to bed at the appropriate hour, their body releases cortisol, the stress hormone, putting the immune function in peril.
Neha Bhatt and Himani Dalmia have made baby sleep easy to understand and remember. Get your own copy of Sleeping Like a Baby from your nearest bookstore.