Friday, December 15, 2006

Hooray! Sleep science and common sense agree

Parenting books are notorious for promoting one point of view strongly while ignoring all others. It's part of the publishing imperative--you typically need to come up with "Dr. So-and-So's Incredible Solution" if you want to sell books. Writing that "my ideas are good but other approaches work too" doesn't fit with the "expert" image.

Sleep has been one of the most heated battlefields in this respect. At least it was 7 years ago when my daughter was a baby. Things have finally mellowed out a bit with experts admitting that there is more than one way to get a baby to sleep. A scientific review of behavioral approaches to infant sleep shows that just about all sleep tecniques work--the key is to pick an aproach and stick with it. The study is published by the journal SLEEP and reported by The New York Times. Dr. Jodi Mindell says that “The key to this whole thing is parents being consistent. [Parents] need to pick a plan they can absolutely follow through on.”

This is important advice because no matter how gentle the technique, when children are transitioned to falling asleep alone, they almost always respond tearfully for at least three to five nights.

This transitional period is difficult but the investment is worth it. I completely agree with Dr. Mindell when she says, “What parents really need to focus on is the big picture. In the end, you’ll have months and years of everyone sleeping through the night and functioning better through the day.”

Remember that YOUR sleep an important family priority. I fell into the trap of bad habits that led me to become chronicaly sleep deprived, which carries a steep price. I've posted about this before, What Dr. Ferber Said...., but it's worth re-emphasizing my watchword to judge all parenting technniques: sustainability. The early weeks and even months of motherhood can seem like a big fog, but after that clears, you need to come up with a schedule that Mom, Dad and Baby can all live with.

If you have a newborn at home, it's worth studying up on the progression of baby's sleep patterns. Here's an article from to get you started. Babies' nervous systems aren't mature enough to sleep through the night until they are about four to six months old. After that, a sleep training strategy becomes appropriate. Remember that your own patience will be key!

Another useful resource is my friend Ann Douglas' new book, Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler and Preschooler. Ann understands that there is no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all sleep solution" and she has created a comprehensive, no-guilt guide that will help you navigate ever-evolving sleep challenges over the years.



Anonymous Karen said...

I clipped and saved the NYT piece myself. If only we could put this topic to rest . . . but then what would we need the experts for??

5:23 PM  
Anonymous aalize said...

one thing I very much dislike is being told I need my sleep; I need to get into a routine; I need to wean my baby; I absolutely have to do these things if I ever have a hope of functioning normally or being a 'better' mother - leave me alone! So I'm sleep deprived. So my baby still wakes 4 times a night at 21months to breastfeed. This is how I like it. Anything else would feel counterintuitive to my personality and needs. This does not mean I am going to fall apart!

1:56 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

If that works for you, Aalize, then it works for you. I had the opposite experience, and it was very destructive to my health. I was sleep deprived at 18 months and I was tested for sleep disorders, depression, my doctor prescribed Prozac but I chose not to take it. Chronic sleep deprivation was the culprit, and I didn't even realize it until I was in crisis. Feeling foggy all day long was a painful existence.

So I think this new report is very helpful in saying that when it is time to get children to sleep on their own, we have to know that it will likely take several nights of adjustment.

I wish you the best!

8:36 AM  

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