Ask any new parent about the wonders of a solid night’s sleep, and they’ll sing praises for its magical effects on well-being. Researchers agree on the many benefits of sleep and have proposed multiple credible theories for its purpose. However, the scientific community haven’t yet confirmed a definitive reasoning for sleep.

Learning and Education

We’re all familiar with the fact that we have a hard time focusing on information when we’re running on too little sleep. Absorbing information is only half the battle though. Actually, if you really want to get technical, it’s only a third. Learning and memory are divided into  three functions. Acquisition, consolidation, and recall. Put simply, you need to receive  the info, then you need to stabilize the memory of it, and finally, you need to be able to access it when you’re watching “Jeopardy!”  

Acquisition and recall really only take place while you’re awake. Consolidation, on the other hand, “takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories. The overall evidence suggests that adequate sleep each day is very important for learning and memory.”¹ Even if you succeed in concentrating on your learning and absorbing the information, without sufficient sleep, the brain fails to properly store it. When you attempt to recall it later, you’ll end up blank-faced, resembling the expression your baby wears when they’ve just had a midnight diaper disaster.

Now, I’m a firm believer that learning and education should be a lifelong pursuit, but once we’re out of  school, learning becomes substantially more optional. Education is the primary focus for children throughout the first 18-20 years of their lives. Given how much information they are continuously retaining, the importance of a healthy sleep schedule is hard to overstate. 

Emotional and Physical Health

We all know that when we don’t get enough sleep, we get short-tempered and irritable. A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that subjects who experienced even partial sleep deprivation reported feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and mental exhaustion.² This isn’t exactly new information. We’ve all experienced how lack of sleep can turn us into emotional messes, but why does it happen? It’s still somewhat of a puzzle, but some researchers propose that sleep deprivation triggers heightened activity in the amygdala—the brain region linked to emotions that include anger and fear. These intensified emotions can fuel a sense of stress and hostility towards others.

We can see how getting enough sleep is essential to learning and emotional well-being, but what about some more tangible benefits? Well, short of eating and breathing, you would be hard pressed to find anything with more health benefits than getting enough sleep. “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 Institutes of Health. “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.³ Without a doubt, sleep remains a vital component of a healthy and joyful lifestyle, although its mysteries persist. However, everything changes when you become a parent, doesn’t it? Suddenly, you’re tasked with sacrificing sleep for the better part of months to years, responding to your child’s seemingly endless night-time needs. This notion, in my opinion, is the most troublesome myth about parenthood and one that deserves to be debunked.

The Importance of Sleep in Babies

Because here’s the thing; your baby needs sleep even more than you do. Those little bodies may look like they’re idle when they sleep, but there’s an absolute frenzy of work going on behind the scenes. Growth hormones are being secreted to help baby gain weight and sprout up, cytokines are being produced  to fight off infections and produce antibodies, all kinds of miraculous, intricate systems are at work  laying the foundation for your baby’s growth and development, and they’ll continue to do so through  adolescence, provided they’re given the opportunity to do so. Nature does the heavy lifting. All that’s required of your little one is to close their eyes and sleep. 

I see a LOT of people telling new parents that babies just don’t sleep well, and that they should expect their little ones to be waking them up seven or eight times a night. This is not correct.  Offering this advice is not just incorrect; it implies that parents should embrace their baby’s sleep difficulties as a normal part of parenting. This could prevent parents from tackling the issue. Parent’s don’t look for help because they’re selfish and enjoy sleeping late. It’s because they, and even more so, their kids, need adequate sleep for all of the reasons I’ve listed above.  

If your baby is waking up 7 or 8 times each night, crying until you soothe them back to sleep, that’s a clear sign that your baby is struggling to sleep. It’s a health concern with a solution. Accepting inadequate asleep in infancy leads to accepting it in adolescence, and eventually you end up with grown adults who don’t give sleep the priority it requires. So to every new parent out there, if your baby’s not sleeping, address it. It’s not selfish, it’s not unrealistic, it’s necessary, and the benefits  are prolific.

1 Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, retrieved from healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory, December 18, 2007 

2 Sleep. 1997 Apr;20(4):267-77. Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance  performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Dinges DF1, Pack F,  Williams K, Gillen KA, Powell JW, Ott GE, Aptowicz C, Pack AI. 

3 National Sleep Foundation, 2008 Sleep in America Poll, Summary of Findings retrieved from

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