IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP FOR BABIES AND KIDS
“The baby will sleep when the baby is tired!” “We used to keep you kids up really late so that you would be good and tired for bedtime.” “Just rock your baby to sleep.” “Just sleep with the baby.” “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Perhaps the one that bothers me the most: “If you didn’t want to be up all night with a baby, then you shouldn’t have had a baby in the first place” – Talk about mom guilt!!!
I’m here to tell you that the women telling you these things aren’t as old as they look (they’re just really, really tired)! Seriously, though… Why do we obsess over baby’s sleep? What’s the big deal?
We know it’s important, but let’s think about it… Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, so ultimately it’s in our family’s best interest to have children who sleep well (so we can too). We will be more attentive, patient and better parents when we do.
Why is sleep so important?
Babies and children who sleep well have better behavior, emotional regulation, health, improved learning, attention and memory as well as superior mental and physical health compared to children who don’t sleep well. Poor sleep in infancy is even tied to obesity later in life! This all makes perfect sense when we think about ourselves and what happens when we sleep well and when we don’t.
When we don’t sleep well (often the newborn phase, with multiple night feeds), we are mean to our husband, short tempered, quick to cry or get upset, we get sick more often, eat like crap and forget everything. In other words, we put the mail in the freezer, brew a fresh pot of black pepper and wonder why the coffee smells “off”, and almost brush our teeth with diaper cream.
When we do sleep well, we become “ourselves” again; ok we may still be mean to our husbands sometimes, but we are healthier, have more energy, are more interested in doing activities, have better emotional regulation and we can finally remember what we need at the grocery store (mostly).
How can I get my baby to sleep?
Call me crazy… but rocking, soothers, feeding to sleep, swings, etc. will all likely put your child to sleep. For a little while anyway, then you’ll need to help them jump sleep cycles because they don’t know how to do it on their own – enter sleep training…
There are a ton of ways to “sleep train” you baby… but I HATE that term. Sleep training sounds like we are “training” our kid for a 12-hour marathon of sleep - and let’s face it, training for any kind of marathon doesn’t sound like a ton of fun. So let’s teach our children HEALTHY AND INDEPENDENT SLEEP SKILLS. This means teaching them to drift off to sleep all on their own. So do some research, find a method that rings true to your parenting style and child’s personality and then go for it! ... Or hire a sleep consultant to do the dirty work for you, give you a plan and support you though the changes.
“Why hire a sleep consultant when I can do it?”
Losing weight and working out is hard, that’s why we hire personal trainers to give us a plan and motivate us to see it through… Same thing with sleep consultants, except it’s baby’s sleep changes we’re talking about. We have all bought the books and read them and then either not done it or we’ve done it incorrectly because we’ve misinterpreted. Again, with the personal training analogy – a book can tell you what to do, but it can’t fix your form in the moment.
When choosing a sleep consultant, be sure to do your research. It’s not a regulated profession so make sure you’re choosing someone with training and experience, someone who will make a customized plan for your baby and family and who will support you through the changes. You also need to make sure that you ‘click’ with your sleep consultant - you need to feel comfortable enough to tell them everything, talk to them about your worries, be open with them and celebrate with them. Your sleep consultant should feel like an old friend.
Ok, finally my parting words… Remember that this is YOUR family, YOUR baby and YOUR baby’s sleep (well your sleep too, obviously). Do what feels right for your family, what works for you… and if/when it stops working, don’t ever hesitate to reach out for help.
Children's Sleep: New Guidelines on Shut-Eye for Kids
Early Life Risk Factors for Obesity in Childhood: Cohort Study
Short Sleep Duration in Infancy and Risk of Childhood Overweight
Photo Credit: Modern Nest Photography