As mothers, we are bombarded with conflicting information regarding our children’s sleep. From Co-Sleeping to Sleep-training and Biological Needs vs Wants; we hear, read and absorb it all. Here are three of the biggest sleep myths BUSTED that will clear the pathway to healthy sleep for your child and family.
Myth # 1: All Naps are Equal
After 4 months of age, your baby develops her circadian rhythms making it important for her to be having an appropriate number of naps at appropriate times during the day. It is at this age when we can develop a consistent day-time nap schedule where as previously we would be watching for sleepy cues (rubbing eyes, pulling ears, whining). This schedule is important because it ensures your child is sleeping at the biologically restorative times, giving them the most restorative sleep possible. The duration, environment and quality of these naps can make a huge difference in how well-rested your baby is. Daytime naps should now be at least 1 hour in length (ideally 1.5 hours) and should occur on a flat, motionless sleep surface (crib). A 2-hour nap in the car is equal to 30 minutes in the crib!
Myth # 2: Sleep-Training means Leaving my Baby to Cry….and Crying is Bad!
Many parents cringe at the term “Sleep-training” because they believe it means leaving their child feeling scared and abandoned while trying to learn self-soothing skills. This a multi-faceted myth. Self-soothing skills are something every child needs to learn and be taught. As infants they will already have some of these skills (sucking on hands etc) but as they grow older they need re-enforcement to sharpen these skills and learn other ways to sooth-themselves. Sleep-training is simply the method in which we, as parents teach these skills to our babies. Rest assured there are several possible methods in which these skills can be taught. I personally give my clients the choice of several different methods to make sure they are comfortable and the chosen method works with their family’s values.
The second part of busting this myth is the understanding that crying is bad and harmful to your child. The cries present during any sleep-training are simply protest cries. Your child does not feel fear, abandonment or loneliness. She is simply protesting the new environment, routine or expectation because it is something new. There are also countless studies “proving” that the CIO method raises cortisol (stress hormone) levels in babies, however these studies have been dis-proven over and over again for their scientific flaws. Most of the studies were performed on rodents in non-human-like environments and situations. Other studies that used human subjects were placed in a lab-like environment (not in baby’s home) and only measured cortisol levels during a night of CIO. There was no control group meaning lack of comparison to a non sleep-training group of babies and the findings showed the same cortisol levels were present before and after the night of CIO even began.
Many studies exist that explain that cortisol levels peak in many different situations. For example, cortisol levels naturally increase and decrease during sleep stages, and can be measured quite high in “happy” situations like a child on Christmas morning.
Myth #3: If I want my Child to Sleep-in I need to Make Bedtime Later
This is the biggest and most common myth! Although it makes sense logically, when it comes to babies and children we need to think biologically. Keep in mind a biologically normal wake time for a young child is between 5:30am-7:30 am so a wake time of 9:00am might just be wishful thinking!
A consistent, appropriate bedtime is one of the most important aspects of your child’s sleep hygiene. For children age 4 months- 4 years bedtime should be between 6pm-8pm, remembering that the most restorative sleep occurs between bedtime and midnight. Parents can be hesitant of this early bedtime because their child does not appear tired, but this is exactly what you want. Once your child begins to show tired signs their bodies have began producing cortisol and adrenaline, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep because they are over-tried. This can lead to night wakings and earlier morning wake-ups. If you want your child to sleep-in a bit later, an EARLIER bedtime most often does the trick.
As a Certified Child and Baby Sleep Consultant I work with many different types of families with children aged 4 months to 4 years to overcome their child’s sleep issues and concerns. My role in your child’s and family’s sleep well-being is to be an educational tool, a cheerleader and supporter, a friendly enforcer and my personal favourite, for many families, their saving grace. I have had the pleasure of working with many local families as well as some international clients, as my services are easily accessed via phone, Skype and email, as well as in-home visits. Some of my Client testimonials can be viewed at darlinglittledreamers.com.