Sleep: fundamentally important for the physical and emotional well-being of both children and adults and the one thing our brains can physically not function without. Ask any parent and they will tell you how important sleep is! But with all the contradictory information on baby sleep, what is true and what is not, and what exactly can you do to help yourself and your baby get vitally important shuteye?
Here are 6 myths about sleep that you need to be aware of:
Myth #1 – All soothers are good for my child’s sleeping habits.
Unfortunately not all soothers (be it dummy’s, taglet blankets, mommy’s fingers, drinking from a bottle) are good for your child’s sleeping habits. It depends on your child’s age and tendencies, but chances are that he can use some of these to aid him to fall asleep which, however, never teaches him the skill to self sooth. (In other words, your baby starts relying too much on external soothers). Sleep associations are especially important when you want your child to sleep consecutive hours and for this reason it is helpful to teach your child to work on using independent soothers. For example, if your baby relies too heavily on his dummy to sleep, he will call you to put it back in when it drops out of his mouth (before he is 9 months and able to put it back himself). It might be helpful to rather teach him to suck on his fingers rather than relying on the dummy.
Myth #2 – Sleep can’t really be that important… right?
Wrong. Sleep deprivation is linked to ADHD symptoms, obesity in children, and even lowers your immune systems defences. Sleep is when the brain flushes out its own waste. It does this through a network of specific channels like a plumbing system. It is also so important for the development of brain functions – learning new info, storing memories. A recent study has also shown that it is particularly important for kids as the growth hormone needed for tissue and muscle development is released primarily during sleep. Remember that it is not only the amount of sleep that you and your baby get, but also the quality of this sleep as one does get something called: “Junk Sleep”.
Myth #3 – The later I put my child to bed and the more tired he gets during the day, the better he will sleep at night.
It works the other way around. Sleep calls sleep! It is well known myth that keeping your baby up during the day will make him/her sleep better at night. Rather make sure that you child is getting age-appropriate amount of sleep during the day. The better rested your child is and putting him or her to bed at the appropriate bedtime, actually makes them sleep better and longer. Day sleep influences night sleep and as such, if you want to improve the night-time sleep your child gets, work on the daytime sleep too. The key is to focus on the sensory input during the awake time and to follow the cues that your baby is showing you. Your little one will tell you when he or she has had enough stimulation and is ready to go to bed!
Myth #4 – Some children are just bad sleepers and they will grow out of it eventually.
Did you know that studies have shown a possible correlation between adults who suffer from insomnia were most likely bad sleepers as children? It is not necessarily genetics that plays a big role, but rather the sleep hygiene that parents implement. All children can learn to sleep well – just as they can learn how to walk – but the correct environment is necessary to help a child learn good sleep habits. If a child is not healthy reaching sleep milestones when they are young, chances are that they will be troubled sleepers through most of their infancy if behavioural modification does not take place.
Myth #5 – I should put rice cereal in my child’s bottle
Remember that sleep is influenced by the brain and not the stomach. Although a hungry child will not sleep well, in most cases interrupted sleep is not because of poor nutrition. Furthermore, introducing solids to an immature gut could increase their risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, coeliac disease and possibly obesity.
Myth #6 – The only way I can teach my child to self sooth is to leave him to cry-it-out.
Teaching your child to self sooth is not just a matter of leaving him to cry. There is so much that you can do during infancy to help your child to feel safe and comforted. Sleep is influenced by so many things; stimulation, routine, feeding habits, bedtime, health, discipline, and a trained professional can help you to implement changes in your child’s life that creates an environment conducive to sleep.
By taking the necessary steps to achieve restful, consolidated sleep for your child you will be giving them a skill that they will carry with them throughout their lives. And this is truly a gift.
The truth about sleep is that there is no one thing which will make your child a good sleeper. Sleep always needs to be assessed from a holistic standpoint taking everything from nutrition to light exposure into account. No two children are the same either, which means that certain advice might work for some children, and not for others. However, there are a few simple truths as mentioned in this blog that will help you get off to a great start!
About the author:
Petro Thamm, Regional Director (Africa) of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants, is the only certified sleep consultant in Africa trained by Dana Obleman from Sleep Sense TM Institute in America and heads up Good Night – Child Sleep Consultancy. She specializes in baby and toddler sleep and helping parents struggling with their child’s sleep by using positive sleep solutions and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy type treatments and also has a diploma in Sleep Therapy from the International Maternity Institute.
She studied BA (Marketing Communication) at the University of Johannesburg and has a background in marketing and social media. However, it was when her son was born that her life changed completely – not just socially but also professionally. After four months of waking up every 45 minutes she searched all over the world for help and her journey to better sleep eventually lead her to train in America to become the first Sleep Sense consultant in Africa. Her son’s transformation made such an impact on her that she decided to dedicate her professional life to helping families in Africa; educating them on the importance, relevance and manageable aspects of child, toddler and baby sleep.
Since the humble beginnings of the start of the business, she has helped hundreds of families to better sleep and further educates herself in the spheres of neuroscience, nutrition, toddler discipline, breastfeeding and other baby and sleep related matters. She believes sleep is the fundamental building block of healthy living and considers the education around better sleep as a passion, more than a job.