Recently I did a workshop and with lots of advice to keep it interactive, what better way to start than with some true/ false paddles and a number of sleep related statements to see what the general opinion was. Yes…..the results were interesting. The topic of ‘infant sleep’ is such a minefield. I have to say despite my training and experience, it still surprises me at times! It is really counter-intuitive and so today I am hoping to bust some common sleep myths.
A quick reminder of the stats. 1 in 4 children will have a sleep challenge at some stage in their young lives. And so, for all those sleep-deprived parents out there, there are an equal number of family and friends who will have lots of well meaning advice on how to overcome your sleep challenges.
For example, 2 year old fighting bedtime? Easy. Cut out daytime nap?? (See below for the right answer!)
Or, is your newborn only taking short catnaps? How about building his resilience and getting him asleep in the corner of the living room with a bit of background noise. If he can learn to sleep there, surely he can sleep anywhere??? (See below for the right answer!)
Any of these “top tips” sound familiar? And when you’re tired, you’ll try anything. Surely if it worked for your husband’s colleague’s niece’s baby, it might work for you!!
And so you try. Progress? Erm. No. Not really. Let’s discuss why.
- 2 ½ year old and a nightly bedtime battle. Cut out nap? Surely that will ensure the child is tired enough at bedtime.
So, in this scenario, if you did cut out the nap, yes your child would probably fall asleep easier at bedtime. But it would be a ‘crash out’ to sleep. Which indicates no self-settling involved. So then a wake-up in the night time might mean your child doesn’t know how to get back to sleep. Also, things could fall apart even further a week or 2 down the line. All 2 year olds still need a nap of up to 2 hours. So, cut that nap out altogether and you will soon have an even more overtired child. Which could result in early morning waking- pre 6am, as the major cause of this is overtiredness.
So, in a nutshell, cutting out naps is NOT the answer here. Instead, I’d want to investigate the timing and length of nap, bedtime, and how your child is actually getting to sleep. The answer is probably to be found here somewhere instead!
- Child is rising early (pre 6am). Appears awake and ready to start the day? Ok. So maybe bedtime is too early and you need to keep them up a bit later?
Straight up, I’d be surprised if bedtime is too early. If your child is going to bed and falling asleep within 20mins or so, I’d say that bedtime is perfect. If it’s taking a lot longer than that, then I’d say bedtime isn’t early enough!! Because when a child is ready for sleep and it doesn’t happen (as often they are good at hiding their tired signs until it’s too late!!), then the body releases cortisol (like adrenaline) to keep them going, which makes getting to sleep even harder! And that’s what I mean when I say sleep is so counter-intuitive.
So if your child is waking pre 6am, maybe bedtime actually needs to be earlier. As I mentioned above the main reason for early waking is overtiredness.
- 2 year old trying to climb out of cot. Ah. Maybe she’s ready for a big girl bed?? That will be a novelty and make her feel like her big sisters. Yes??
Nooooooo!! This is not the answer. So basically, before the age of 2 ½ years, a child does not cognitively understand the need to stay in bed. So, whilst it might seem like a good idea initially, and may even work for a short time, the chances are your little one will discover her freedom…and when that happens, you have a new challenge on your hands because she cannot understand otherwise. So, if you have a little ninja warrior who can scale a cot with ease, my advice is to explore all options firstt before resorting to a standard bed. Try a sleeping bag (grobag or similar). Or a product like a slumbersack (which has feet but it’s like a sleeping bag so very difficult for a child to scale cot by getting 1 leg over the top). Be creative. Try and work out a way to keep your little one safely in their cot until closer to 3 years if possible.
And if that’s just not safe, then there are other ways of overcoming this challenge!
- Newborns can / should be able to sleep anywhere?? Build their resilience?!
Often the 1st born child gets peace to nap. After that, newborn siblings have to get used to all the noise. And join in with all the activities. Soft play. The swimming pool. Mums and tots. You name it. The new baby is there and appears to be sleeping soundly through all the background noise. Really? A new born baby will nap a lot. But it is a light slumber rather than a deep sleep. So while they appear to be sleeping through any background noise, this isn’t recommended as a regular feature. Calmer days = calmer nights. Because even if your little one appears to be coping ok at the time with the noise, you can then find they are unsettled even hours later.
Generally, it is best if the immediate area around your baby’s sleep space is calm, quiet and relaxing – as this is most conducive to a restful sleep.
- Some children just don’t need as much sleep as their peers. Maybe my child is just a ‘bad sleeper’.
This is unlikely to be the case. Yes, all children are different, but there are guidelines of how much recommended sleep a child of a certain age gets – and these guidelines apply to 95% of children. So whilst most of us think our child falls into the other 5%, chances are they don’t. They are likely just having some behavioural challenges right now that mean they aren’t getting the sleep they need. And when I say ‘behavioural’ based challenges, I don’t mean you have a little one who is ‘naughty’. I simply mean when there is no medical reason for the sleep issues, and that it’s just the actions or behaviour you are seeing at bedtime.
So, isn’t it a relief to know that chances are there likely is a solution to the sleep challenges in your house right now?!
I hope my sleep myth busting has been useful. If any of these scenarios resonate with what’s happening with your little one, hopefully my tips here will help! And if you need more tailored advice and 1:1 support to guide you with that, please get in touch today!!
Blog written by Certified Sleep Nanny Consultant Helen Farmer.