baby sleep myths

7 Baby Sleep Myths Debunked

One can argue that myths aren’t always a bad thing. They help us make sense of our world. They can make us feel better when things seem to be going in the wrong direction. Myths can help us feel comforted when we feel lost, which is beneficial. But at the end of the day, the definition of a myth is a widely held, but false belief or idea. The key word in there is false.

While helping us feel comforted in times of struggle, myths seem to have a long-term effect in delaying progress forward. Delaying us from moving beyond that place of struggle and feeling lost. So today, I want to address some of the most common baby sleep myths I see.  Moms-to-be have these baby sleep myths driven into their brains on a regular basis. Then once that baby is actually born, the number of people who think they have the keys to success in parenthood (whether they are actually parents or not), seems to multiply exponentially. *insert eye roll here*

As a new parent, you can feel buried in advice, suggestions and ‘helpful’ information. Many of these tidbits are conflicting, confusing and leave you feeling more lost than ever. 

A new mom receives so many suggestions in her first year of motherhood. Even when never asking for advice. I want to create a number such as “kajillion,” specifically to measure the number of suggestions! I can only imagine the tidal waves of advice that must overwhelm a momma who openly asks for it.  Anyone can see this happening in Mommy groups on Facebook regularly. My heart goes out to those moms. They are just trying to survive by asking for help. And then people just start arguing and judging other parents all over their thread. It is not helpful for anyone.

There’s no such thing as a casual mom. This gig is full-time, no matter if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, a working mom, or somewhere in between. Your kids are on your mind 24/7. No matter what else might be going on, you are thinking about your kids. So, we tend to do a lot of research. With access to unlimited information on the internet, Dr. Google or your mother-in-law, it’s inevitable that we get some conflicting information. Although when it comes to kids, I think the discussion even eclipses politics for the sheer divisiveness and people claiming opinion as fact.

baby sleep myths are shocking

So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, children’s sleep, and debunk some of the more popular baby sleep myths. There are many places that spread these baby sleep myths. It starts with parenting forums and advice from family and friends or even random people on the street. But the many Facebook groups where these myths are angrily shouted in all caps is the by far the worst.

1. Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night.

Not likely, except in extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to concern yourself too much with the length of their naps. Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2 to 2.5 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour. (So, the idea that all newborns do is eat, sleep and poop is pretty accurate).

What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sack out for a full night than one who slept all day. But it is actually just the opposite. When baby misses the “tired phase”, we refer to it as being “overtired”. Their bodies start to kick back into gear, which makes it much harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. When baby gets a decent amount of sleep during the day they far less likely to miss their sleep window.

There are substantial variations depending on baby’s age and the length of their naps. Up to that 6-month mark, it’s really not uncommon for baby to be sleeping around 4 to 5 hours a day outside of nighttime sleep. If your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.

2. Sleeping is a natural development so you can’t teach it.

Sleeping is natural, absolutely. Everybody wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night, regardless of their age. So no, you can’t teach a child to be sleepy. What we can teach, however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently.

The typical baby whose parents say is a “bad sleeper” isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up. They’ve just learned to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake up. Once your little one figures out how to get to sleep without external assistance like being nursed, rocked or held by mom or dad, they can start stringing those sleep cycles together absolutely effortlessly. And that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night”!

3. Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule.

The idea that infant physiology is so flawlessly, naturally programmed to regulate a baby’s schedule is almost laughable. Nothing against Mother Nature, but she doesn’t provide us with a ready-to-run baby like she does with say, a baby giraffe. (Seriously? After coping with a 6-foot drop at the time of birth they are walking within the hour? Our babies are pretty dang cute, but clearly not as prepared for independent life out of the womb.)

Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep cycle by as little as a half hour, their cortisol production can increase which causes a surge in energy. Then things quickly spiral out of control. I wish babies would just fall asleep when they’re tired. However, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their tired cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.

4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.

Nope. And this isn’t just me talking here. This is the American Academy of Pediatrics – pretty much the leader in reliable baby health and safety information. According to a 2016 study conducted by eight of their top researchers, behavioral intervention, (aka sleep training) “provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior”. Not a whole lot of gray area there.

5.  Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.

Let’s start by putting aside any religious beliefs for a moment. I think we can all agree that even if babies were “designed”, whoever did the designing left plenty of room for some upgrades. Trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing is a recipe for disaster.

Is your toddler designed to eat that entire bag of candy left over from the holidays? Surely not. Will they if you don’t intervene? Without a doubt! Is your baby designed to avoid predators? If so, nobody told my little one. She would happily ask a hungry mountain lion for a hug if it approached her. 

Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years. (And, let’s face it they probably will for decades after that.) This is especially true when it comes to their sleep. Some babies are naturally gifted sleepers. But don’t rely on the advice of those who tell you that babies will just decide to sleep through the night without waking when they are ready. Sometimes they may need a little push and encouragement. That’s why you’re in charge. You want what is best for them and you know best, even if it may not feel like it sometimes.

6. Putting baby to bed later will help them sleep in later.

This one always makes me cringe. But it does depend on your definition of sleeping in later. If you are happy that your child slept in six extra minutes, then I guess it could be true. But for myself as well as most of the parents I talk to, this is not the case. This goes back to Myth #1 and overtiredness. Often when babies are kept up too late, they miss their sleep window. Then their body compensates to help them stay awake using stimulating hormones. This causes the opposite of the desired result. What this advice usually leads to is instead of everyone getting to sleep in, the whole house is up for some ‘fun’ night wakings as well as up even earlier than normal in the morning! 

7. My baby must be getting enough sleep because they seem pretty happy during the day.

Sleep absolutely impacts our moods. Sometimes grumpy and fussy babies aren’t getting enough sleep. But just because your baby is happy doesn’t necessarily mean they are getting enough sleep. If your baby has never slept well, they may be happy, but you don’t really have anything to compare it to. You usually know how your mood or your partner’s mood changes based on if they slept well or not. But, babies who have never slept well don’t have that same baseline to compare to. 

A lot of my clients tell me they have happy little babies who just don’t seem like they need much sleep. But the parents need more sleep so they really want their baby to sleep better, too. Parents are usually pretty surprised at the big changes they notice after their baby starts sleeping well. Now their happy babies are even happier, more engaged with their world and really ready to take on the day every morning! 

There are obviously plenty more baby sleep myths and misconceptions surrounding little ones and their sleep habits, but these are some of the most important to get the facts on.

Remember, there are endless posts on social media and websites that portray themselves as factual, but there’s nothing stopping them from making that claim, regardless of their accuracy or basis in actual scientific evidence. Google scholar is a great place to find peer-reviewed scientific studies on all things baby-related. Trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, the World Health Organization, and other national children’s health organizations are excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health.

If you want to ‘nerd out’ on sleep facts and the benefits of sleep as I do, you can find more information here or reach out to me. I’m willing to talk about it for as long as you want (and probably some more, too). If you have fallen into some of these common baby sleep myths and you feel like you have dug yourself into a hole of bad sleep, let’s find a time to chat because there it is never too late to help your little ones learn healthy sleep habits!

Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!

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