Debunking Common Infant Sleep Myths

January 22, 2017

sleeping toddler or babyMarin Mommies presents a guest article by Marin parent coach, infant/toddler sleep researcher, and family therapist Angelique Millette.

Very often when I am speaking at workshops and conferences or working with parents in their home, common questions include opinions about infant sleep and 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 abound as the field of infant sleep research is limited and the research is primarily focused on one area: behavioral changes. A field of infant sleep is changing very quickly and new researching is debunking much of what we knew about infant sleep.

This article will debunk some of the common sleep myths while helping parents to make informed sleep choices that support their parenting philosophy as well as their infant or child's developmental needs.

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. The development of circadian rhythms, the biological temporal rhythms that help our bodies "know" a 24-hour day and the difference between day and night, begins the day your baby is born. The development of your baby’s circadian rhythms is dependent on their environment, i.e. caregivers, environmental cues, light exposure, consistent routines. 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, introducing feed, play, sleep routines, and feeding frequently during the day.

Babies need to be sleep trained in order to learn to sleep.

It has widely been believed that babies would not learn 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 with the method that determines success. 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 co-sleeping 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 and sleep safely.

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. The research also shows that “sleeping through the night” may yet include one feed at night for a 6-10 month old baby. 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.

The 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!

Angelique Millette works throughout the Bay Area and across the country supporting families and helping them meet life's challenges. You can learn more about her and her services at www.angeliquemillette.com. She offers classes at locations in Marin and San Francisco; find the complete schedule on her website.