Sleep myths

Everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to getting children to go to bed and sleep through the night; however, some common beliefs are based on myths. This article will outline and explain some of the most common sleep myths:

Myth: You should expect sleepless nights for the first two years

Fact: Many babies start to sleep through the night when they reach six months old, so sleepless nights should not be part and parcel of daily life with a toddler. Try to encourage your child to get into a routine from a very early age.

Myth: Napping during the day stops my child from sleeping at night

Fact: This can be the case if your child has nap late in the afternoon but it should not affect your child if they have nap in the morning or early on in the afternoon; keeping your child awake can be counter-productive because they will probably play up at bedtime because they are over-tired. If you want to encourage your child to nap less during the day, try to get them into a routine of napping during the morning so that they are tired when it comes to the evening.

Myth: Some children need more sleep than others

Fact: Many children may give the impression that they don’t need much sleep; however, all young children and babies need a minimum amount of sleep and if they don’t get this, you will soon start to notice the effects on their behaviour.

Myth: You should never wake a sleeping child

Fact: You should wake your child if they had the required amount of sleep and are still sleeping; this will help to ensure that they learn the difference between night and day and adapt to a daily routine.

Myth: Babies cannot sleep if their siblings are crying at bedtime

Fact: This is a common belief when it comes to twins; however, in many cases, one twin sleeps much better than the other. Children get used to the noise and will sleep through it. Newborn babies are used to noise because it is fairly noisy in the womb; some babies may be comforted by noise, such as music, a lullaby light or a musical mobile at bedtime.

Myth: It is not possible to start a routine early on

Fact: This is not true; try to ensure your baby adapts to a routine at bedtime as early on as possible (from about 3-4 months old) so that they learn the difference between night and day and sleep well at night; getting into a routine in the evening will make a huge difference to you and the relationship between you and your partner.

Myth: Babies teach themselves to sleep through the night

Fact: In some cases, it may seem that the baby just naturally sleeps well at night; however, in most cases, sleeping through the night is taught to babies through the habits of their parents; if you get your baby into a routine to relax them and prepare them for bed in the evenings, they will be more likely to understand that night time means sleep time.

Myth: If I can’t settle my baby I should try different methods each night to soothe them

Fact: Once your baby reaches the age of 6 months old, it is really important to be as consistent as possible at bedtime; your baby will soon get used to their evening routine. If you put them down and leave them to cry, make sure you continue to do this until they learn that crying won’t bring them anything (this will be different if their cry changes to a cry which indicates that they are distressed or ill); if you cuddle them and rock them until they go back to sleep, be prepared to do this every time they wake up. It is up to you how you choose to encourage your child to sleep at night; some parents prefer the ‘tough love’ approach, while others opt for comforting their child during the night and using blankets, soft toys or dummies.

Myth: A late feed will help my baby to sleep for longer

Fact: As babies grow they can take on more food and they may start to sleep through without waking up to feed; however, you should be aware that babies do not just wake up because they are hungry; they also want your attention and your affection so feeding them later on will not really have any impact on the length of time they sleep during the night.

Myth: Children should be allowed to sleep as and when they want

Fact: Some parents may be fine with this strategy but most parents will find this approach very hard to cope with; pandering to your child’s every need will most probably leave you emotionally and physically drained and longing for a decent amount of uninterrupted sleep. It is perfectly normal and very common for parents to manage their children’s sleep routines; you will work much better as a parent if you are sleeping well; sleep deprivation is a major cause of stress, relationship breakdowns, anxiety and depression amongst parents of young children.

Myth: It is important to be really strict at bedtime

Fact: Just because you stick to a routine does not mean that you have to be regimental and strict at bedtime; encourage your child to relax during the evening by spending time with them, bathing them, reading them a story and playing soothing music to them; this way they understand that it is bed time and they will learn that this mean they have to go to sleep. If your child starts to get up and mess around in their room, simply go in and tell them that it is bedtime; continue to do this until they go to sleep and repeat this on a daily basis until they learn that they should go to sleep when they get into bed. You will find that your child learns very quickly.

Myth: Co-sleeping can never work

Fact: This is a matter of individual choice; some parents love having their children with them during the night, while others are very clear that they want their children to sleep independently. Many families successfully co-sleep but you may find it slightly more difficult to encourage children to sleep on their own when they get older; they will soon adapt though and you can encourage them by decorating their room, making it comfortable and relaxing and putting their favourite soft toy in bed with them.

Myth: Keeping babies up late will make them sleep for longer during the night

Fact: Keeping babies up late will actually do the opposite; babies go into a more active state when they are over-tired and are much more difficult to settle; it is also common for babies to wake regularly during the night if they have been kept up late.

Myth: Letting babies fall asleep on you will prevent them from falling sleep alone

Fact: This is true to a certain extent, but only if you let them fall asleep in your arms every time. Cradling babies to sleep is absolutely fine when your baby is very tiny, as they will find it hard to settle without your warmth and touch. As your baby gets older, encourage them to fall asleep on their own or put them down once they have fallen asleep on you. If you want to start encouraging your baby to sleep independently, you can try to gradually get them used to this by touching their face and stroking their forehead while they are lying in their cot at nap time; this way they have the security of your touch, without being cradled.

Myth: My child won’t sleep through the night

Fact: Every child will sleep through the night if they are encouraged to develop positive sleeping habits; it helps to try and foster these habits from a very early age so that your child knows when it is bed time. If you really are having problems and feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, ask your GP for advice or consider seeing a sleep expert.

Guide to Sleeping for Mother and Baby:

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