8 Baby Sleep Myths Busted!
As a parent, I’m sure you have received massive amounts of opposing advice from Google, your mother, your mother-in-law, your friend, your neighbour, the grocery store clerk and so on.
Although well-intentioned, the copious amounts of advice are often inaccurate.
Today I will be debunking 8 of the common sleep myths:
- Keeping your child awake for longer periods during the day will help them sleep at night.
When babies and young children do not get enough daytime sleep, they often sleep WORSE at night. This is because every time they miss a nap or sleep window during the day, they experience a cortisol rush. This is a burst of energy similar to a second wind. This extra energy stays in their system overnight, making it harder for them to fall asleep at bedtime (could you fall asleep in the middle of a second wind?), and makes them more fully wakened when they experience partial arousals all night long. These are probably not quite the results you were aiming for! When your child gets the amount of daytime sleep their body needs, the nights will be better as well.
- Putting your child to bed later will result in them sleeping in later in the morning.
The explanation for #1 holds true for this myth as well. By trying this method, you may also end up with a child who wakes earlier and earlier in the morning.
Would you prefer to wake up and start the day before 5am? Now you know how to do it;)
- Feeding a breastfed baby formula will help them sleep longer at night.
Introducing formula to a baby who has been exclusively breastfed can be hard on their digestive system. It takes a lot more energy for a baby’s body to digest formula than breastmilk. Instead of sleeping deeply, their body is working hard to process the introduction of a new food to their system. Some babies will experience more gas and discomfort with this introduction (even one bottle of formula changes the ph in the infant’s gut), which may mean less sleep. Breastfed babies can and do sleep just as long as formula fed babies. The amount of time babies sleep depends more on temperament, stomach capacity, and the mother’s breastmilk storage capacity. Feeding a baby formula without pumping at the same time, can also negatively impact a mother’s milk supply. If you are thinking about this option, 1) it doesn’t work, and 2) talk to a lactation consultant before starting.
- Adding cereal to a baby’s bottle OR filling them up with solids right before bedtime will help them sleep for a longer stretch.
This is false for the same reason as above your baby’s body is working hard on digestion instead of restorative sleep. Being upright and moving after eating is helpful for both babies and adults to digest their food.
- Active or alert babies/toddlers/preschoolers don’t need as much sleep as other children.
I refer to children who hit their milestones early (walking, talking, etc.) as alert children. Alert children are usually quite active children too. They are so engulfed with exploring their world; it seems they never stop. They are often described as hyper, energetic, independent:, and active. They have a harder time falling asleep because their brains are just so darn busy learning and processing!
BUT (and this is a big but here), they actually need MORE sleep than the average child BECAUSE their brains are so busy.
It is incredibly important for these children to have ample rest time to give their brains a chance to turn off before the next period of adventure begins. It can be harder to see the sleep signals in these children because they seem to be going a mile a minute all day long. They are often accustomed to blowing through their sleep windows. They resist sleep more than other children because there is just SO MUCH to learn! Although these kids may need more help learning to fall asleep, once they learn the skills and start sleeping for the amount of time their body actually needs, parents often end up with phenomenal sleepers and lots of downtime during naps. Who wouldn’t want that?
- Stretching out daytime feedings will help your baby stretch out their night time feedings.
Babies have a certain amount of calories they need to consume in a day to continue growing well. If you start feeding them less during the day… GUESS WHAT? They have to make up for those lost calories at night! If you want them to feed less frequently at night, you will have to make up for those lost calories during the day. Some babies will start taking in more at each feeding, while some will need an extra feeding during the daytime hours.
- Putting your baby on a schedule will help them learn to sleep longer.
I have a question for you: how do you know when you are hungry? Is it the clock that tells you it’s time to eat? Does your husband/friend/coworker tell you when you are hungry? Or perhaps, is it your own body that signals you with hunger cues when it is time to nibble?
I have another question for you: how do you know when you feel tired? Is it because of the clock/another person telling you? My guess is probably not. Your body probably tells you when you need to rest.
Your baby’s body tells them everything they need to know; when they are hungry, tired, etc. When we introduce a schedule for our babies, we essentially teach them to ignore the cues their own body is sending them. Over time they are unable to read and interpret their body’s natural signals because they have become so accustomed to overriding them. Adults who have learned to listen to their own body’s cues have been shown to have better portion control when eating and lower rates of obesity.
Schedules also don’t work because they don’t take into account growth spurts. There are times, especially in the first year of life, when babies may need to feed every 2 hours instead of every 3-4. Because they are growing. And that is normal.
- Nap your baby in a bright room with loud noises nearby so they learn to sleep through anything.
The first question I have to ask you is this: could you nap in a bright room with a vacuum roaring by your head? Likely not. And you have had how many years of practice falling asleep? Sleeping is a new skill for your baby. Just because they had the ability to sleep through anything as a newborn does not mean that they can or should continue to sleep in this type of environment. Some kids are more sensitive to sounds and making loud noises while they sleep isn’t likely to improve their sleep. It’s more likely to leave you with an overtired baby. Yes, they can learn to adjust to some household noises that happen outside of their rooms during nap times, BUT some babies will find this harder than others. By setting up an adequate sleep environment, you are fostering the ideal setting for peaceful slumber to happen.
What is more important to you: that your baby develops the unrealistic ability to sleep through anything or that your baby sleeps?
What baby sleep myths have you heard?
Andrea Galambos is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, and founder of Blissful Nights. As a former exhausted parent of 2 busy little boys, Andrea fully understands the toll extreme sleep deprivation can take. As a Gentle Sleep Coach, Andrea works with tired parents of infants and small children, helping them gently and lovingly teach their children invaluable sleep skills. As the children learn to sleep, parents are reunited with their own long-lost and desperately missed uninterrupted sleep.