Understanding baby sleep is challenging enough without all the old wives tales and uninformed public screeds. And there are plenty of both because, frustratingly, a lie can learn to walk while the truth is still learning to tie its shoes. Fortunately, a glut of research is undercutting generations of specious claims, helping parents understand how to help their children sleep soundly and safely.
Here are the five top pieces of received wisdom that turned out, post-fact check, not to be wisdom at all.
MYTH: Never Wake A Sleeping Baby
This myth misunderstands the importance of schedule and routine in sleep training. Sleep experts note that just like any other schedule you follow, you’ve got to consider both the start time and the stop time.
“Do not only focus on the bedtime,” says Boston Children’s Hospital Sleep Center Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Gingrasfield. “Also focus on the wake time in the morning. And don’t forget nap start and end times.”
The reason for this is that parents have a tendency to allow their babies to sleep much longer than necessary. A newborn should sleep, at most, 20 hours combined in a 24 hour period. At 6-months-old the upper limit of sleep is 13 hours. By the time a kid is 12-months-old another 30 minutes is shaved off that time, totaling 12 and a half hours.
A baby blowing past those totals, without a consistent wake time will be thrown out of whack. That could mean more trouble in getting to sleep and staying asleep, the next time parents try to put the kid to bed.
Gingrasfield puts it simply: “Yes, it is okay to wake a sleeping baby.”
MYTH: Lullabies Help Babies Sleep
A soft song while putting a baby to bed is a gentle touch point in the nightly bedtime ritual. It reinforces the notion of transitioning from rambunctious wake time to quiet sleep time. But booting up the glockenspiel playlist while the kid snoozes is not the best idea.
Lullabies can help a baby go to sleep by providing a drowsy rhythm and drowning out environmental noises. However, any pause or change in music can cause a startle and wake-up. Also, dependence in the canned tunes will mean that the music becomes a necessity. That dampens a baby’s ability to develop the skills they need to self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep.
If the environment is truly loud, due to traffic noises or construction. A solid wall of unchanging white noise is a far better option. This can come from a radio tuned between stations, or better yet, the whirr of a fan which have also been shown to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome [SIDS].
That said, if possible, it’s far better to allow a baby to fall asleep to the natural sounds of house and family. That way they can become accustomed to the natural background sounds of dishes being done or the muffled voices of loved ones. This will allow them to fall asleep naturally without forcing everyone to take hours-long vows of silence.
MYTH: There Is a “Best” Sleep Training Method
Parents consistently go to one of six popular sleep training methods, most of which are considered behavioral interventions. But baby-sleep message boards and social media consistently fill up with parents calling one another monsters for their sleep training choices.
Everybody just needs to calm the hell down.
The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has basically acknowledged that behavioral interventions such as Ferberizing and gradual extinction do not cause undue stress or damage parental attachments. Most of the other sleep-training methods are variations on those themes.
The important part is not the behavioral intervention parents choose, it’s that the sleep training choice is built around a reasonable and consistent sleep schedule. Because whether a parent is Ferberizing or going “No Tears,” there will be nothing but frustrating, gut-clenching failure if bedtime is a moving target.
MYTH: Wearable Monitors Stop SIDS
For adults, wearable tech turns every day into a 10,000 step march. But for babies, it can be downright dangerous.
Wearable tech continues to find a place in the crib. Parent’s can buy Bluetooth-enabled onesies, baby socks, and bracelets that monitor heart rate, breathing and movement. This tech ensures baby’s vitals are just an app away at all times. That’s great for belaying the constant “Is my baby breathing?” fears common to the early months. But federal agencies warn that wearables can’t reduce the risk of SIDS, and parents believing they can create a dangerous false sense of security.
The only way to truly reduce the risk of SIDS is by following AAP guidelines. These include keeping the kid in the parent’s bedroom (but not the bed) for the first year. Also, providing a sleep space with a simple tight-fitting bottom sheet and no extraneous cozy blankets, pillows or stuffed animals. And finally, putting the kid to sleep on their back.
If parents follow all of these guidelines, there is really no need for a wearable, except for novelty.
MYTH: Naps Aren’t Necessary
Some parents have a tendency to discount the importance of naps as a kid grows. This tendency is heightened as kids develop the ability to put up verbal opposition to the idea of laying down their head. Not to mention the fact that a nap can become an increasing inconvenience during the day.
It’s true that children will consolidate their napping. By 2-years-old they will generally have cut back to a morning nap and an afternoon nap, though some toddlers will even consolidate those to a single midday nap. This doesn’t mean naps are any less important. More difficult? Yes.
Research shows that when a toddler naps it reduces stress hormones and allows them to recharge. And doing away with a nap could cause a kid to become overtired, leading to difficulty falling asleep at night. Parents are encouraged to continue to offer naps at least until a child is 3-years-old, and even after that.
The easiest way to ensure a kid is getting the sleep they need is to maintain a strict schedule which continues to be important for sleep even into school years. If a child is refusing their nap, parents are encouraged to at least give their kid some quiet time in a dark cool room for at least 30 minutes every day. Even on weekends.