It’s often been noted by exhausted new parents that the adage “He sleeps like a baby” is misleading. Certainly, an infant may sleep through a loud birthday party, a sibling’s tantrum or a long line at Target, but wait until 3:00 a.m. and baby is wide awake.
Getting on Schedule
New parents need their sleep and many are anxious to get their child on a sleep schedule. Whether a parent ascribes to the “cry it out” theory, prefers co-sleeping or something in between, research shows that it is important to an infant’s growth and development that they get sufficient sleep.
According to Dr. Nimali Fernando, local pediatrician and owner of Yum Pediatrics, “I generally encourage my patients' families to begin training their babies to fall asleep themselves and stay asleep at around four months. For most babies, this is when they are developmentally ready and their first teeth have not yet erupted. After a soothing, predictable routine babies should be put in the crib awake at an early bedtime (some experts say as early as 7:00 p.m.), without rocking or feeding to induce sleep.
...sleep in childhood and adolescence is critical to brain development.
Unlike adults, an earlier bedtime leads to increased and improved sleep for babies. Although the first few nights of sleep training may be challenging, remember that when baby is finally sleeping through the night, you will not only have a happier baby, but the whole family dynamic will improve!
Why is sleep so important?
In “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” Marc Weissbluth, M.D., states, "Sleep problems not only disrupt a child's nights — they disrupt his days, too, by making him less mentally alert, more inattentive, unable to concentrate and easily distracted. They also make him more physically impulsive, hyperactive,or lazy."
Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control, research shows that insufficient sleep results in metabolic changes possibly related to obesity. This relationship is particularly pronounced in children. Experts also believe that sleep in childhood and adolescence is critical to brain development.
What if Junior does not want to sleep?
Brandie Williams, coordinator of the Parent Education-Infant Development Program at the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, suggests, “Turn the lights down low and minimize talking. Turn on some classical music. Set up a bedtime routine of three quick activities that are done in the same order every night. This provides a routines-based trigger to let your little one know that it is time to go to sleep. Some examples could be reading the same book, singing a good night song and giving a kiss goodnight.”
Adequate rest is all that matters
Williams realizes that some families prefer not to adhere to strict schedules and says that is fine, noting, “Not every routine or schedule works for all families. Set bedtimes may not work for you or your child. What matters most is that your child is getting enough sleep. Toddlers should get at least 10-12 hours of sleep each day. Some children get these hours during one long stretch at night, while others require a nap during the day.”