I remember one day she told me her doctor told her she was keeping her kids too clean and she was a bit floored by his advice to expose them to some dirt.
Although I admit that it seems counter-intuitive, I wasn’t surprised when she told me. I’d heard a lot of talk about the so-called “Hygiene Hypothesis,” which suggests that our obsession with sterility is actually having negative effects on our children’s health.
In case you’re unfamiliar with this theory, here’s a brief summary.
On one side, you’ve got the sterility advocates. Germs are bad, and the fewer you come into contact with, the healthier you’ll be.
This was pretty much the accepted theory up until 1989, when Professor David Strachan proposed the idea that a lack of early exposure to germs and infections was causing a rise in children’s allergies.
This theory originally suggested that, because overly sterilized children weren’t being exposed to microbes, their immune systems were more likely to attack whatever they could identify as a threat, such as pollen and pet dander.
Unfortunately, “The hygiene hypothesis” was a pretty catchy little name, and when people started chatting about it outside of the medical community, the facts got somewhat distorted, which led to the speculation that, with all of the hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, we’re essentially too clean for our own good.
Suddenly, parents were being told that, because their children weren’t being exposed to harmful microbes, they weren’t developing antibodies, so when they did inevitably come into contact with some nasty germs, their bodies would have no idea how to respond.
What’s a parent to do with such conflicting information?
Relax. According to the National Health Service, you can spray all the Lysol and Clorox you want, because the truth is, you’re never going to effectively sterilize your house. As many germs as you get rid of, there are thousands more coming in every minute of every day. They’re in the air, on your pets, in your food and on your skin.
And that’s a good thing! Our digestive and immune systems work best when they’ve achieved a balance between beneficial and non-beneficial organisms. So although you shouldn’t expose your child to the e. coli bacteria in order to build up some antibodies, you also don’t need to wipe down every surface in your house with bleach three times a day.
According to the NHS website, “Good hygiene isn’t about being dirt-free and doesn’t require being obsessively clean. Good hygiene is about preventing the spread of germs at times and in places and situations where it really matters, such as when preparing food, after using the toilet, after sneezing and when someone’s ill with an infection.”
If you find that your child is perpetually under the weather, a much more likely culprit is a lack of sleep.
Yup. Lack of sleep has a terrible effect on your child’s immune system. Studies from the Mayo Clinic show that kids who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, and have a harder time recovering when they do.
This is due, in part, to proteins called cytokines, which are released by your immune system while you’re sleeping. When your child has an infection or inflammation, these helpful little guys carry messages to the cells, telling them how to respond. Without enough sleep, there just aren’t enough of them to do the job efficiently. Infection-fighting cells and antibodies are also reduced when your child isn’t getting enough shut-eye.
So instead of bathing your kids in Purell twice a day, first make sure they’re getting the proper amount of quality sleep. (For preschoolers, that’s between 11 and 12 hours a night.)
If you need some help getting them onto a proper schedule, take a minute to check out my Sleep Sense Program help get your kids (and you!) get the rejuvenating sleep you need!
Certified Sleep Sense Consultant Tip
“Don’t give your toddler the choice of deciding on his / her own bedtime. Give them other choices, such as which PJs to wear, which books to read and which song they would like to sing before you say goodnight.”
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