If you are friends with other parents, part of a playgroup, or if you hang around the neighborhood park for long enough, conversations around sleep will quickly come up. “How are you all sleeping?” is a common question we hear when chatting with a newborn’s parents. “She just won’t sleep in her own room!” is a lament we hear from the parents of older children. As the conversations continue, different opinions on a child’s sleep and sleep training surface, and some of these common myths might follow.
“My baby’s not sleeping at night because she’s sleeping too much during the day.”
Unless your little one sleeps all day with very little awake time and then is awake all night, you don’t need to worry about too much daytime sleep. I recently had my second baby girl and compared to her older sister, she is quite the sleepy baby! Those first two weeks I had to actively wake her up to nurse, and sometimes that wake-up process would take up to 30 minutes. Once she was done nursing, she often went right back to sleep with little to no awake time in between. And that’s because newborns, especially, need a ton of sleep! I still have to wake her from her naps regularly, however that is not in fear of too much sleep, it’s to help her learn that the daytime is for filling our bellies and nighttime is for solid sleep. (Side note: For toddlers and older children, we do watch closely for the length of daytime sleep, as it can impact their nights.)
“If I keep him awake longer during the day he’ll sleep better at night.”
Similar to the first misconception, some parents believe that keeping their child awake more during the day or extra long before bedtime will help him or her have a great night of sleep. This makes me cringe because this will lead straight to overtiredness which is what most often keeps babies awake, day or night. Just for reference, until about six weeks old, 45 minutes to an hour is the maximum amount of time a baby should be awake, and that includes feeding! Until about six months old, your little one should not be awake for more than about two and a half hours. We sometimes need to help stimulate babies during that awake window so they don’t fall asleep prematurely due to boredom, but we should not stimulate them beyond that window. If you find that your baby is extra fussy during the day, it’s likely because he or she has far surpassed that awake window, and it is much harder to fall asleep when overtired.
“You can’t teach a baby to sleep, it comes naturally.”
Did you know that everybody wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night? As adults, we just don’t remember because we slip right back into sleep. Our little ones, however, often have certain “props” they need to fall asleep, such as feeding, rocking, patting, or singing, so when they experience that small wake up, they don’t know how to slip back into sleep without that prop. So while we cannot teach a child to be tired, we can teach him or her how to fall back asleep independently in those small wakings. Once babies have figured out how to get to sleep without needing outside assistance, they start effortlessly stringing those sleep cycles together and are then able to sleep through the night.
“It’ll be obvious when she’s tired, I’ll just watch for her cues.”
Understanding your child’s sleepy cues and keeping a close eye on them throughout the day is certainly important, however, it’s often not enough. “But she doesn’t look tired,” is what I often hear people say as I’m about to put my newborn down for a nap. Remember those awake windows I mentioned earlier? Sometimes babies make it quite obvious they’re tired and it matches up with the appropriate awake window, but when we’re engaging with them or in an especially stimulating environment, those cues likely won’t surface until baby is beyond the point of tired. We need to watch the clock and provide our babies with the right sleep environment so they can develop healthy sleep habits.
Please contact me to continue this conversation or if I can help.
Pediatric Sleep Consultant