Now we are back in the full swing of nurseries and schools being open and activities like soft play being open, we are waiting in anticipation for the influx of colds that seem to sweep around our little ones like wildfire. And what is the one of the main things that suffers when our little ones are poorly? That’s right, their sleep. Which then makes it more difficult for them to fight off any germs. It becomes a vicious circle.
But what is so important about sleep when it comes to immunity? Well without adequate sleep, our bodies make fewer cytokines, which is a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, a.k.a an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, which is why often, prevention is better than cure in supporting a healthy immune system.
Now this doesn’t mean that little ones need 12 hours uninterrupted sleep to support a healthy immune system. It’s age and individually appropriate. Supporting babies and toddlers nutritionally during the night as well as the day can have just as important role to play in supporting a healthy immune system as sleep, but that’s a whole other blog post.
So how can we make sure our little ones are getting enough sleep for their age? Here are my top five tips;
1 – Babies, toddlers, older children (and most adults) thrive in routine and regularity. I’m not saying you need to have a Gina Ford military routine, but try to have a few key points during the day that are consistent. For example, nap times, meal times, and bed times all create a great foundation for a predictable daily routine while also giving you room to flex. For more information on what time bed time should be click here.
2 – Don’t wake them up unless you need to. I know the anxiety can start to creep up when they have slept for longer than normal and you start questioning if they’ll sleep at night. Honestly don’t worry. They would need to be having a humongous amount of daytime sleep to prevent them from sleeping at night. Children’s bodies and brains are incredible things so go with what they need. If they need a long nap go with it.
The one caveat to this is making sure they have enough time awake before going to bed at night. So if it gets really late you may want to wake them to give them some dinner and have a play before bed. But trust if your little one is sleeping a lot, they probably need it.
3 – Get outside. People often associate colder weather with coughs and colds and blame the temperature for this. In fact, a big contributor to the spread of these germs is the fact that we are inside together with little fresh air, germ paradise.
Fresh air is also very important for a good nights sleep. The reason for this is that fresh air can raise levels of oxygen in your brain, which in turn boosts the levels of serotonin. Serotonin is the happy hormone that converts to melatonin at bedtime and helps our little ones (and big ones!) get to sleep and stay asleep.
4 – Try as much as possible to prevent them from becoming overtired. When we become overtired our brains produce cortisol to keep us awake and alert. Cortisol is basically the brains own “Redbull” hormone that keeps you awake when it’s feeling drained of energy. So becoming overtired can often cause frequent night wakings and early rising. And without enough sleep our brains don’t have as much time to create and release those all important cytokines.
5 – White noise. Not only can white noise be a great sleep cue for our brains to produce melatonin, it can also help with our quality of sleep buy supporting our brains in to a much deeper, more restorative sleep than with out it. This can be really useful if your little is teething or having a developmental leap that causes them to wake frequently during the night. Because although they may be waking more regularly, their quality of sleep with be much better with white noise. It’s a form of sleep damage limitation during this time.
Paediatric Sleep Coach
BSc & MSc hons