Dispelling the Myths on Sleep

9 May 2017

Dispelling the Myths on Sleep

Shedding light on some common sleep perceptions

It seems that as soon as your baby arrives the flood gates open with sleep tips and advice pouring at you from every direction.

We are never sure whether or not the advice we are given is right but in those dark moments of despair, anything is worth a try. Friends or grandparents will offer well-meaning advice that at the time seems logical but may not be relevant and fit today’s lifestyle.

Let’s shed some light on some of the most talked about common perceptions on sleep.

‘If I keep my child awake all day and deprive him of sleep, this will help him sleep better at night.’

For many parents this seems logical because surely a baby who is totally exhausted and has been awake all day, will be so tired that he will fall asleep easily at bedtime. Unfortunately this is not so as children who are over tired are much harder to settle and become resistant to sleep. Encouraging regular naps during the day is vital to promoting positive sleep at night.

As soon as I start him on solids he will sleep through the night

This seems plausible as you would think that once your baby’s tummy is full then there shouldn’t be any reason for him to wake up at all.

For some babies, but only a minority, introducing solids can be all that is needed to help them go longer at night, but for the majority of babies who are still waking regularly for feeds, it will not be the answer.

Generally between the ages of 4-6 months, and often sooner, most babies should be able to cut down to just one feed per night, with the majority of feeds taking place during the day. If your baby is always offered a feed each time he wakes up he will slip into the cycle of ‘feeding to sleep’. This can be very confusing to a lot of parents and can leave you thinking ‘well surely if he takes it he must be hungry’. Try looking at it from your baby’s perspective; if every time he wakes up he is offered a cuddle and a feed that sends him into the comforting land of nod, then he will see this as the only way of getting there and will expect it every time.

If on the other hand he is fed, placed in the cot awake and falls asleep by himself, he will no longer make the connection with having to feed to fall asleep. 

My child wakes up because he is scared of the dark

There is no evidence to suggest that sleeping in the dark will cause your child to be scared. In fact a parent’s reaction can often exacerbate the situation. Around the age of 3 your child’s imagination is developing rapidly so anything he sees on TV or in books will enter into his fantasy world at night. If your child mentions that there are monsters in his room and you react by leaving lights on and staying there, then you will emphasize that darkness brings fears.

If you are going to use a night light, make sure it is really dim and low wattage but be warned as these will cast shadows around the room. Although tempting, try not to enter into your child’s fantasies by searching for monsters under his bed or pretending that you have got rid of them as this will just heighten your child’s imagination and you will be drawn in.

If I rush to my baby as soon as he wakes up I will nip his waking in the bud before things escalate.

It is quite normal for a baby (particularly around 5 months) who is shifting between sleep cycles to whimper, cry out and moan momentarily. This phase is known as ‘partial waking’ or ‘brief arousal’ and should not be confused with your child being fully awake. If you rush to your child every time he stirs, you may interfere with his sleep pattern and confuse him. Try standing back for a minute or two to see if he genuinely needs you; you may be surprised to learn that all he required was a quick stretch , moan, shuffle and he is back to sleep again.

Bottle fed babies sleep better than breast fed babies

This subject is always open to huge debate and one that crops up time and time again. It is true that there is a difference in the way that breast milk and formula milk are digested. As breast milk is easily digested due to its unique composition, generally it will be absorbed quicker than formula milk as the protein and fat content is more easily broken down.

More often than not, if a breast fed baby is unsettled or wakeful during the night, it is easier, more tempting and comforting to offer a quick feed and a cuddle back to sleep, exactly what nature intended. Babies who are formula fed tend to be on a more predictable feeding pattern and with the added hassle and cost of making up extra night feeds, it is generally offered less often, thus reducing the likelihood of a baby learning to ‘feed to sleep’.

He is waking up because he is teething

The first tooth can appear anywhere from 3 months to 12 months and it can take up to 2 ½ years for your child to get his complete set of milk teeth. Teething most certainly can cause discomfort for your child but it will not necessarily be the main cause of your child’s waking. Most children who are generally good sleepers will seldom be disturbed by teething but children who are poor sleepers, teething will exacerbate their waking.

Teething signs are generally quite obvious and most children will display more than one sign which helps you to decide whether or not he is teething. Here are a few classic signs of teething: 

  • Constant drooling: wet tops and bibs which can cause soreness around the neck if not kept dry
  • Sore bottom: an enzyme released during teething causes the stools to become loose and offensive which in turn can cause nappy rash
  • Urine may become stronger and darker: it is believed  that excessive dribbling can lead to a  loss of fluids, which in turn concentrates the urine
  • Red swollen gums and  red  hot cheeks, often only on one side
  • A strong desire to bite on objects, often your shoulder or a surface
  • Ear pulling and rubbing: Gums, ears, and cheeks share nerve pathways, and so an ache in the gums (especially from erupting molars) can travel elsewhere.

I need to move my child out of his cot because I hear him banging the sides, it must be a sign that he has out grown his cot.

Parents often make the mistake of moving their child into a bed too soon as a toddler’s constant movement and banging can be perceived as a sign that he has outgrown the cot and may cause harm.

On the contrary, most children up to the age of 2 ½ years can be very active sleepers and will change position regularly throughout the night, sometimes rotating as much as 180 degrees. Toddlers also lack spatial awareness and are therefore more likely to fall out of bed or wander into your room. Unless your child can climb out of his cot, delaying this stage will undoubtedly make the transition from cot to bed a lot smoother and may reduce night time waking.