As a child sleep consultant I hear from my clients every day about advice they have been given from other moms to help their child sleep better. Unfortunately, much of the advice out there is based on old wives’ tales that continue to circle among new moms. Many of these myths seem rational, which is why the same bad information is being given generation after generation and causes ongoing frustration and sleepless nights.
Knowing the facts can help get your child, and you, sleeping better. Here are some of the common myths that I hear from my sleep-deprived parents, along the actual facts.
MYTH #1: If you keep your baby awake during the day, they will sleep better at night.
Many parents wonder why their incredibly exhausted child, who did not nap at all that day, is not falling asleep quickly at bedtime. Logic would tell you that they would crash as soon as they hit the bed. In reality since his body did not get the required rest it needed during the time his biological clock was telling him to sleep; his body went into panic mode and began producing cortisol. The hormone cortisol is what gives us a “second wind.”
FACT: Sleep promotes sleep. A sleep routine, that includes naps, helps ensure children don’t reach the overtired state and have a more restful night.
MYTH #2: The later you put your child to bed, the later they will sleep in the next morning.
Actually the opposite is true. Similar to myth #1, when a child goes to bed late or has an inconsistent bedtime, they are more likely to reach their overtired state, which is when the body starts producing cortisol. When a child goes to sleep before reaching the overtired state, their body is able to produce copious amounts of melatonin. This is the hormone that helps keep the child asleep as they transition from one sleep cycle to the next.
FACT: A consistent bedtime that is age-appropriate is the best way to avoid early morning wake ups.
MYTH #3: If you feed your infant rice cereal or put some in their bottle, they will sleep through the night.
Our brain controls the way we sleep, not our stomach. When a baby constantly falls asleep at the bottle or on the breast, this will create an eat/sleep association, which can be incredibly hard to break.
FACT: Instead of feeding a baby right before they go to sleep, establish a habit of feeding when they wake up. This gives their body plenty of time to digest before sleeping and it also separates eating from sleeping in the child’s mind.
MYTH #4: Children will learn to sleep when they are ready.
Although this might be true in some cases, it is the exception and not the rule. In fact, 38% of school-aged children still wake up at least once a night.
FACT: Sleep training at a very early age will help children learn how to get to sleep by themselves and stay asleep throughout the night.
MYTH #5: Put your child in their crib to play so they get “use to it.”
Putting your child down to play in the place where you expect them to sleep can be confusing for a child. There needs to be an obvious difference to the child of day and night, a sleep environment and a non-sleep environment. This is one of the reasons I recommend using black out curtains and removing all light up toys and mobiles.
FACT: The baby crib should be associated with sleep only. Children should be put in the crib only when it is time for them to lie down for their nap or bedtime.
While your friends and family have good intentions when it comes to giving advice about sleep, it is usually best to just politely listen to the advice but research the facts and get your information directly from the experts.