Have you ever felt like you may have a system overload when trying to seek advice on your child’s sleep? You certainly are not alone!
As a Mother and a Sleep Consultant my Facebook is littered with tired parents seeking out advice from other parents who may understand the struggle and sleep deprivation that seems to go hand in hand with parenthood. While I wholeheartedly support online mom/dad groups, sometimes the advice or myths discussed on these posts truly hurts my heart (and my head).
Society has forced parents into believing that infant/toddler sleep issues are normal. As if the sleep deprivation just needs to be sucked up and dealt with because parents signed up for that when having children. The truth is; Yes, babies wake up often but at a certain point you need to look at your child’s sleep patterns and take a moment to think; “are they as tired as I am?” chances are high that they likely are!
When a sleep deprived and desperate parent reaches out for help and receives replies from well-meaning people, they are very likely to try anything mentioned. The issue with this is; not all advice is helpful, and some is actually harmful which can cause even more issues for your little one’s sleep.
In this blog; I am going to spend time debunking all of the sleep myths I have personally read from well-meaning people. This blog will be updated as I come across more myths.
1. “Solids/Cereal will help baby sleep better.”
This advice is not only dangerous, but completely incorrect. No amount of cereal or solid food with help your child sleep better. If anything; introducing solids/cereal too soon in hopes that it will help your little one could cause more issues due to gas pain and constipation.
Why doesn’t it work?
While it is true that one reason why babies may wake up is due to hunger, it is not the only reason. Many babies are waking at night because they are; too young to sleep 11-12 hours without feedings, struggling with independent sleep, not on an age appropriate schedule, experiencing a sleep regression, etc.
2. “They are scared of the dark”
If you have a toddler over the age of 2.5-3 years this could be true for you. However, younger babies technically do not have the ability to be scared of darkness and what could possibly be within the dark environment due to an underdeveloped imagination.
If you have an older toddler who is verbally stating, they are scared of the dark; you can introduce a dim red bulb night light to help.
3. “I use insert anything other than white noise”
Can some children do well with lullabies, rain sounds and heartbeats? Sure. The majority of children cannot, and these sounds typically end up doing the opposite of what parents are hoping for; cause more wake ups. Many of these sound machines also have the option to put a timer on. The problem with anything other than true white noise and with timers is; your child is transitioning through many sleep cycles throughout the night. If your child slightly wakes between these cycles and hears a change in tone/pitch or a sound suddenly shuts off it can cause your little one to fully wake.
Why is white noise the better choice?
True white noise is a consistent sound that does not change in tone or pitch. White noise tricks your little one’s brain into focusing on that consistent sound instead of the outside sounds. White noise is also great at indicating to your child that sleep is expected.
4. “Time to drop naps”
This one is said so commonly, it is definitely one that I come across the most. A parent posts that a child is fighting bedtime, and someone comes on and says, “my baby dropped naps at insert age that is under 2.5 years old.”
Now hear me out; You may think your child is fighting bedtime because they aren’t tired enough, and it’s that old myth that if you keep a baby up longer, they will sleep better. Well that is just a myth; most of the time if a child is fighting bedtime for hours on end, it is the OPPOSITE, your child is very likely OVERTIRED.
5. Keeping baby up = better sleep.
Number 5 goes hand in hand with number 4. Each month, there is an approximate amount of time your baby should be awake between sleep. These wake time recommendations are put in place to ensure your baby doesn’t get overtired.
Why is this a myth?
When your baby’s body/mind are ready for sleep, melatonin begins to be pushed into the brain which signals it is time to fall asleep. The problem is, when sleep isn’t an option when the body is ready, it will then supress the melatonin and begin to push the adrenaline hormone known as cortisol. The increase of cortisol causes your baby to fight sleep even though they are definitely tired. Once you finally get your little one to sleep, its typical for them to have a restless sleep also due to the increase in cortisol.
6. Never wake a sleeping baby.
I feel confident in saying that every parent has been told this, so is it true? Nope. In the beginning of your baby’s life, they are sleepy little humans and are hardly awake during the day. This is due to having night/day confusion: read more about the 4th trimester here.
Part of straightening out day/night confusion and helping extend stretches of sleep at night is to wake your baby every 2-3 hours during the day and focusing on full feeds. This helps ensure your little one is not maxing out on the daily sleep needs and will still have high sleep needs for bedtime hours.
7. “Get them used to noise so they can sleep through things”
Listen, I am a mother of two children and no amount of noise while I am sleeping has made me a deep sleeper. There is no truth behind being loud around children = a deeper sleeper. Typically, deep sleep comes with age. babies sleep cycles do not allow lengthy cycles of deep sleep like adults; this is why white noise is important! Let the white noise do the work for you.
Also, who wants to potentially wake their baby up after FINALLY getting them to sleep?! Not me!
8. Safe Sleep: “My kids were ok” “You survived with blankets” etc
This is one that I will never fully understand. Just because someone else’s child survived sleeping unsafely, it doesn’t mean it should ever be recommended by other parents. Many people think products such as teddy bears, blankets, etc will help a child sleep better. While it might give comfort to older children, if a child’s life is at risk it is never worth it.
9. "Your child is too old for a bedtime that early"
Early bedtimes have been scientifically proven to yield many benefits for children and adults. Going to bed at a consistent time each night helps your body better understand when sleep can be expected which increases the quality of sleep. It has been proven that the best quality sleep happens before 12:00am. Children need healthy sleep to grow and develop, if your child is going to bed at 9-10pm, that isn't leaving much time for the important restorative sleep. Of course, this goes in connection with number 5, and keeping your child up later to please others, can have disastrous results.
As a parent, you will be faced with many opinions especially when it comes to your child and your child's sleep. Everyone has a "secret" they want to share when it comes to infant/toddler sleep, just remember that not all of that advice is great advice. If you ever feel confused, it's best to do a quick search and speak with a trained Sleep Consultant.