Hie everyone, we’re back this week to talk about sleep in children. I think that this topic is very relevant as many parents struggle with putting their little ones to sleep, or facing interrupted sleep issues.
I’m no sleep expert so mainly will be sharing what I’ve read and my personal experience. Let’s clarify some terms first.
Why is sleep so important for babies?
A review of ten studies (NIH, 2017) on infant sleep and cognition showed that infant sleep played a positive role in cognitive development (particularly in memory, language and executive functions) and physical growth. Physical growth (lengthening and weight gain) accelerate during the 1st 6 months of life and we know that increased levels of growth hormones are released during sleep, peaking shortly after sleep onset. So, the quality and quantity of sleep of your baby matters.
How much sleep is enough for babies/infants?
Newborns lack the normal circadian rhythm, hence they tend to sleep multiple short intervals throughout the day and night, which also allows them to fulfill their feeding needs (since newborns feed every 2-3hrs). Generally, newborns sleep about 16-17 hours per day and reduces to about 14-15 hours when they’re 3-6 months old (NIH). By 3 months old, babies tend to develop day and night sleep patterns (this is when you’ll hear some parents telling you their babies being able to sleep through the night and you can’t help but to compare-but rest assured it’s totally normal for babies to wake up 2-3 times for night feeds at this age). Most babies aged 6-12 months old will be able to sleep longer periods at night with some sleeping through the night without feeds. Do bear in mind that these are all rough guides and every child is different!
Co-sleeping vs sleep training?
Co-sleeping is based on the principle that sleep is evolutionary and is dependent on the physiological development of the child, rather than being taught. It can vary from children and parents sharing the same bed, or different beds same room but within reach of each other.
Sleep training, on the other hand, is based on behavioral modification, in which sleeping is seen as a trainable habit. Training may involve using the feed-play-sleep cycle, parents picking up on tired or overstimulation cues, using positive sleep associations (ie same routine before sleep like warm shower before bed, or bedtime story etc) and even controlled crying.
It’s not surprising that co-sleeping has alleged benefits of improved mother-child relationship, better fulfillment of needs, cardio respiratory stability and decreased crying episodes. However, some studies have disagreed and suggested that co-sleeping interrupts parents and child’s sleep, create more dependent children and greater number of children with sleep problems.
The other school of thought supported that sleep training helps babies fall asleep faster, teaches babies to be independent sleepers and reduces night awakenings leading to better sleep for child and parents. But again, some critics have said that sleep training can cause babies emotional stress, and risk of babies’ needs not met affecting psychological health, to the extent of potential permanent psychological damage.
I have to confess that I’m actually on the co-sleeping train and have never tried sleep training. Well, maybe once with my second child, for like 15mins before I caved in (this mama is either a softie at heart, or just cannot tolerate loud crying/noises 😆). When they were infants, they slept in their own cot beds but in the same room as me and then from toddlerhood up till now (both pre-schoolers), they’ve been sharing the same bed as me. It made breastfeeding easier during the early days. And now most nights, I get sandwiched between the two of them (leg on my face, one tiny arm wrapped around me). But you know what, I find the short time spent with the kiddos just before they fall asleep to be the most precious and fulfilling time of the day. It’s then that we talk about things that happened in school, some funny things they said, or some super cute phonics song they learnt in school that day. I feel closer to them emotionally. And it’s our routine before sleeping to take turns to list 3 things that went well/made us happy that day, just so to make it a habit to be thankful for the little things and reminder to ourselves (myself included) not to focus only on the negative aspects.
But it’s also true that my sleep is disturbed because I have little space to move or sleep or if I get kicked or punched as a result of them sleeping so close to me. And of course, I have my husband to consider as well but we make it up by eg. movie time with just the two of us after the children are asleep. Also, I guess like many things in life, we have to strike a balance and see if the good outweighs the bad. For me, my children are only going to be this little once and not for long, so I treasure and hold these little moments close to my heart to last me through the days when they won’t need me to tell bedtime stories anymore, or hold my hand to sleep, or shower me with goodnight kisses (warning: clingy mom alert!).
Again, how much and how well your babies/children sleep matter. As for how you want to put them to sleep, it depends on family dynamics, personal preferences and what works for your family. If you have questions about infant sleep and would like to know more, look forward to our upcoming IG live talk with a paediatric sleep consultant! Stay tuned to our IG @mygingerbubs for further details. Till then!