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Debunking Common Baby Sleep Myths- Part II

Updated: May 24, 2022


There is a lot of noise and misinformation out there surrounding baby sleep which can lead to unnecessary stress for parents. In today’s post, I will continue to bust some of the common myths and hopefully reduce stress so you can enjoy your time with your baby more! (To read Part I of Common Baby Sleep Myths, click here.)


Myth # 1: Babies require “x” amount of sleep at a certain age.


A common baby sleep myth is that there is a set amount of sleep needed by babies of a certain age for them to be healthy. For example, it is typically said that newborns need around 14 to 17 hours per day. However, this is not the case. A study examining trends in actual infant sleep compared to recommended hours of sleep over time found that recommendations were not based on any substantial evidence but more related to examining how much sleep babies were typically getting (Mattriciani et al, 2012). Another recent study showed that even at the newborn stage, there is a very wide range of daily sleep totals needed by babies for their development (some newborns only needed 9 hrs per day; others needed closer to 20) (Paavonen et al., 2019). So, the main takeaway from this is to please not stress when your baby is not sleeping as much as the recommended daily totals! You know your baby best- if they seem happy throughout the day, then it is more than likely they are getting enough sleep for their needs.

Myth #2: Babies need to nap in a dark room.


Newborns (0-3 months) do not yet have a developed circadian rhythm which is essentially our body’s internal clock that causes us to be alert during daylight hours and sleepy at night. The absence of light increases melatonin production, a hormone that causes sleepiness while sunlight leads to increased alertness. It is recommended to not have newborns nap in total darkness as exposure to light during the day helps them develop their circadian rhythm. As babies get older and have a well-established circadian rhythm, you could try experimenting to see if they will nap better with blackout blinds, and for some babies, this could help but it is not a necessity and not a reason that you can’t do naps outside, for example!


Myth #3: You need to teach your baby how to sleep.


Sleep is a biological function, just like eating and eliminating. Furthermore, falling asleep is not within our conscious control. A baby is born knowing how to sleep and it is not your job as a parent to teach your baby how to do so. A key mechanism that impacts when someone will sleep is called sleep pressure. Sleep-inducing hormones in our bodies build up sleep pressure to a point where one needs to sleep to reduce this pressure. The sleep pressure builds throughout the day and is relieved somewhat by any daytime sleep that takes place. Then this pressure peaks at nighttime so that baby will typically give the longest stretch of sleep in the first part of the night. It is in your interest to put more focus on creating conditions that are conducive to your baby’s sleep. A couple of examples of this are tuning into their tired cues so we know when to start nap/bedtime routines and providing them with safety and connection so they feel safe enough to go to sleep.

Myth #4: If you put your baby to sleep a certain way, they will require you to put them back to sleep this same way whenever they awaken.


This is a very common and stress-inducing myth for parents who support their baby to sleep! I mentioned this study done by Dr. Thomas Anders in my last post on common baby sleep myths in which he determined there were two key ways in which infants respond to their awakenings: those that involved “signaling” meaning they needed help from their parents to get back to sleep and those which involved “self-soothing” meaning babies went back to sleep on their own. Another important aspect of this study was that it did not document any specific self-calming behaviour by the babies who were “self-soothers”, they just showed an ability to put themselves back to sleep. So it was not shown that parental involvement in helping put them to sleep had any impact on whether they were a “self-soother” or a “signaller”. Another piece of evidence that disproves this myth is that if your baby is even able to go through more than one sleep cycle throughout the night without signaling to you for parental intervention (so if they are giving you at least one 2 hour stretch), that they can put themselves back to sleep without parental assistance. So it is not because you are helping support them to sleep that they are waking up, it is just part of their biology, and night wakings, whether requiring parental intervention or not to go back to sleep, are perfectly normal.

Myth #5: You should follow a specific schedule based on the age of your baby

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A lot of different baby sleep sites will provide generic schedules based on your baby's age, creating unnecessary stress for parents. Since every baby and family is unique, the same schedule does not apply to every baby of a particular age. Many factors impact the amount and timing of sleep required by different babies such as their temperament, their sensory needs, their genetic background, etc. It is better to tune into your baby's tired cues to determine the appropriate times for them to sleep. Tired cues are essentially unique changes in behaviour or actions of babies that signal they are ready to sleep. If you would like more information about tired cues and how to distinguish between early and late tired cues, download a free document I created here.


I hope this helped reduce your stress around your baby's sleep! Just remember you are doing an amazing job responding to your baby's needs day and night. If you are looking for personalized support with your baby or toddler's sleep, book your free 15 minute discovery call below to see how I can help you!


Sources:

Baby-Led Sleep Certification (Sleep Coach Certification - Isla-Grace (islagrace.ca))

Never enough sleep: a brief history of sleep recommendations for children - PubMed (nih.gov)

Development of sleep–wake rhythms during the first year of age (julkari.fi)



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