Dispelling Sleep Myths



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. Our sleep expert, Annette Faamausili, sheds some light on 6 common sleep misconceptions.

1 “If I keep my baby awake all day, he will 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 the case because babies (and even older children) who are overtired are much harder to settle and actually become resistant to sleep. Encouraging regular naps during the day is vital to promoting positive sleep at night.

2 “If I rush to my baby as soon as she wakes up, I will nip her 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 she stirs, you may interfere with her sleep pattern and confuse him. Try standing back for a minute or two to see if she genuinely needs you; you may be surprised to learn that all she required was a quick stretch, moan, shuffle and she is back to sleep again.

3 “Formula-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.

My theory for formula-fed babies sleeping through the night quicker than breast-fed babies, is that, more often than not, if a breast-fed baby is unsettled or wakeful during the night, it is easier and more tempting to offer a quick feed and a cuddle back to sleep. Whereas 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 often only offered as a last resort by formula-feeding mothers, thus increasing the likelihood of a baby learning to self-settle earlier.

4 “My child will be scared if he sleeps in 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 emphasise 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.

5 “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 2½ 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 for children who are poor sleepers, teething will exacerbate their waking.

6 “I need to move my child out of her cot because I hear her banging the sides when she moves around. She might sleep better in a single bed.”

Parents often make the mistake of moving their child into a bed too early, as they mistake a toddler’s movement and banging against the sides of the cot as a sign that they have outgrown it and may be hurting themselves. On the contrary, most children up to the age of 2½ years can be very active sleepers and will change position regularly throughout the night, sometimes rotating as much as 180°, without even realising.

If your child is not being woken by the restricting sides of the cot, then they are better off staying in it because toddlers lack spatial awareness and are therefore more likely to fall out, or wander into your room, once they are in a single bed. Unless your child can actually climb out of her cot, or is out of night nappies and might need to get up to go to the toilet, delaying this stage will undoubtedly make the transition from cot to bed a lot smoother and may reduce additional night-time waking in the long-run.

Annette Faamausili is a children’s sleep advisor who runs a home consultation service for parents of children with sleep problems. (www.serenesleep.co.nz)

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