Misconception Correction - Top Misconceptions About Your Child's Sleep - Corrected!
Let's talk about some of the most common misconceptions regarding your child's sleep and instead, see what research tells us is true.
#1 - Sleep training your baby will be detrimental.
I'll take 'False' for 200 please! While this belief comes from a place of wanting to ensure all decisions are in the best interest of our children, sleep training is not a decision that will harm you, your child, or your parent-child relationship.
Healthy attachment between a child and caregiver is fundamentally important. Studies have shown that children who do not have their needs met, even as early as in the womb, can develop behaviors that impact physical, social, intellectual, and emotional development. When exposed to high levels of stress, increased cortisol levels create pathways in the brain that do not encourage healthy responses. However, this is almost always after long-term exposure to the stressor without relief from the elevated cortisol levels.
This is not indicative of sleep training. In fact, sleep training can have the opposite effect and create a consistent, predictable, and safe environment for your child that creates positive pathways in the brain leading to well-adjusted and resilient children. Researchers have found that many behavioral interventions (such as sleep training) "provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior."
Sleep training is not successful overnight, but it also is not something that will take months or even years to accomplish. When done correctly, establishing a sleep routine and creating an independent sleeper takes weeks to a few months and all participants (the child(ren) and the parents) are better for it.
#2 - "Later to bed = later to wake."
While we all wish this to be true, it is absolutely not! If you've ever kept your child up late or returned home later than usual and been excited about the prospect of sleeping in, only to have your child wake at the same early hour as usual, then you know how false this is.
For babies to become the best sleepers possible, they must be put to bed when sleepy but before becoming overtired. Keeping a baby up late in order to get a few more hours of sleep in the morning is a dream that will unfortunately turn in to a nightmare. When babies (or us) become over-tired, our bodies kick into action and fight exhaustion with hormones that are released to stimulate us. When babies are put to bed while tired but not exhausted, you have accomplished the first and in many ways, most important sleep goal! Waiting until exhaustion, overstimulation, and fatigue-fighting have kicked in makes sleep more difficult for baby and the parents. Keeping your child on a schedule that adheres to an earlier bedtime (6-7:30pm for many babies) sets your child and you up for success.
Now that your baby is in bed at a decent time, pour a glass of wine, kick your feet up, and watch the most recent episode of Yellowstone. Oh, who are we kidding? You'll be asleep yourself before the first commercial!
#3 - "You cannot teach sleep. Babies develop this on their own."
Sleeping is a natural and instinctual process for survival and does not have to be taught. True, to a degree. When your child is born, you do not have to teach them to close their eyes and sleep; this natural process will of course, happen on its own. However, the piece that can be taught is the development of healthy sleep patterns including the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep with little to no assistance.
When a child becomes dependent on external factors to fall asleep and stay asleep, they become what many call "bad sleepers." Have you ever listened to a parent of grown children talk about what a "great sleeper" one of their children was and what a "terrible sleeper" another of their children was? I think I have said this about my own children! Most likely the cause was the level of dependency on sleep props such as pacifiers, bottles, rocking, nursing, or more to fall asleep.
Throughout a typical night of sleep, everyone (babies, children, adolescents, adults) wake multiple times when sleep cycles are connecting. If your child is dependent on a sleep prop, they will need it when initially falling asleep and every time they wake throughout the night in order to fall back asleep. This means more work for you and more work for them. Instead, if your baby is taught how to fall asleep independently, they will be able to connect sleep cycles throughout the night in a seamless manner without needing you or a prop to do so. This means everyone gets more sleep!
#4 - "Never, ever, ever wake a sleeping baby!
I firmly believe this idea was created by an exhausted parent who finally got their baby to sleep only to see a grandparent inching there way towards the crib to hold the little bundle of joy! It just doesn't seem right to wake a baby who is peacefully sleeping; especially if it is the first sleep you've experienced in what seems like forever.
But, quite the opposite is true in certain circumstances. When it is time to feed your newborn, there might be instances when waking is necessary. Infants need to eat frequently for optimal growth and development, but a newborn napping/sleeping for extended periods of time interrupts the feeding cycle. Sometimes waking to feed is exactly what is needed. Always talk to your pediatrician for questions about this.
Another instance when waking a baby might be necessary is when helping to distinguish between daytime/nighttime. Babies do not always naturally know the difference between daytime and nighttime. We desire for daytime to be playtime/worktime and nighttime to be sleep-time; but babies do not know this! In order to help babies develop an understanding of this cycle, it is sometimes necessary to wake babies during the day so they do not garner larger amounts of sleep during this time and keep you up all night. Of course it is not necessary to keep your baby awake to the point of exhaustion in hopes they will "crash" and sleep more soundly at night (in fact we know this will have the opposite effect). There is a happy medium and a balance that can be found and executed to allow babies easier acclimation to the day/night routines of your family.
Rest and wellbeing,