Blue Suit Mom

Debunking Common Sleep Myths

Written by Angelique Millette

Very often when I am speaking at workshops and conferences or working with parents in their home, common questions include opinions parents have heard about infant sleep and infant sleep development. There are many sleep books available to parents that are “opinion-based” sleep books and not evidence based sleep books. This can be very confusing for parents who want to make an informed choice about how best to help themselves and their babies sleep. Also, misconceptions about infant sleep development are common because the field of infant sleep research is limited and the research is primarily focused on one area: behavioral changes. In the meantime, it is best to debunk some of the common sleep myths while helping parents to make informed sleep choices that support parent philosophy and an infant or child’s developmental needs.

A few common sleep myths:

  • Babies sleep patterns are fully developed at birth. Babies sleep patterns are not fully developed at birth. In fact, one of the most common reasons babies aren’t able to “sleep well” is that the part of the brain that organizes sleep is just beginning to form in the first three to six months. This includes the development of circadian rhythms, those biological temporal rhythms that help our bodies “know” a 24-hour day and the difference between day and night. Babies are born without fully developed circadian rhythms and actually are dependent on their environment, i.e. caregivers, to provide environmental cues necessary to the development of rhythms. Parents can help their babies cue their circadian rhythms by bringing them outside, opening the shades in the nursery and other rooms where the family spends time, and feeding frequently during the day and having play and sleep routines.
  • Babies need to be sleep trained in order to learn how to sleep. It has widely been believed that babies would not learn how to sleep unless they were sleep trained. Studies addressing childhood sleep problems have only looked at sleep training methods that utilize crying as a solution. New research is now showing us that parents may use one of many different methods to help a baby or young child to sleep, but that it is consistency in regards to a method being successful. In addition, research is now showing us that whether or not a sleep method is successful may rely upon an infant or child’s temperament and how they respond to a method. Future research will explore the idea that temperament plays a role in how infants develop soothing and settling patterns for sleeping and how parents’ perceptions of their infant’s sleep may also play a role in how their infants develop sleep patterns.
  • Co-sleeping hinders your newborn developing independence. It has been mistakenly believed that co-sleeping leads to problems with a child developing independence and self-reliance. Parents have often been discouraged from cosleeping because it may hinder their infant’s self-soothing skills by becoming too reliant on parents for sleep. A strong emphasis has been put on newborns sleeping alone as a way to foster self-soothing and sleeping. New research is now showing us that newborns may need to be close to us to help to develop sleep cycles and sleep safely. The research has been important enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that parents room-share with their babies the first six months (the AAP still advises against bed-sharing). It seems that babies need our help to develop sleep cycles early on.
  • Sleep training leads to 12 hrs of sleep at night for your baby. Very often parents will ask me how they can attain the “holy grail” of infant sleep: twelve hours of straight sleep. Many opinion-based sleep books suggest that all babies can sleep twelve hours straight at night. This is simply not true and leads to parents not following their baby’s sleep cues and their baby’s individual sleep needs, and worse, parents feeling like they may be doing something wrong if their baby doesn’t sleep twelve hours. The research shows that babies need between 10-12 hrs of sleep at night and daytime sleep varies depending upon your baby’s age. And the research shows that “sleeping through the night” may yet include one feed at night for a six-month old. Watch your baby’s sleep cues and signs of tiredness to ensure that your baby is getting enough sleep and is not getting over-tired.

A few very good recent studies have addressed the relationship between infant/child sleep and such topics as attachment, child independence, maternal postpartum depression/anxiety, and health problems such as childhood diabetes, obesity, depression, and ADHD. The fields of infant and child sleep are expanding and we will see many great studies in the future covering a range of topics and helping parents make choices that they can live with…and sleep with too!

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