There are many myths and widely shared misunderstandings about baby and toddler sleep, but I run across a select three the most when I am working with new families. No matter your style of parenting, knowing the answers to these three misconceptions will help your baby and your family in your earliest years together.
Keep the baby up longer to make sure they sleep better.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, babies benefit from frequent opportunities to sleep, particularly when they are new. Babies require a lot more sleep than adults, and when deprived of sleep will actually fight naps and bedtime even more. An overtired baby is less emotionally resilient, and less receptive to learning. Sleep begets sleep!
Give baby rice cereal or lots of solids before bed so they sleep through the night.
Babies are typically physiologically ready to sleep through the night around four months of age, though this can vary. Their readiness has everything to do with their neurological development, and not with being extra stuffed before bedtime. It is known that feeding babies rice cereal in their bottle before bed may make them sleep harder initially, but it will not result in them sleeping longer, and actually increases the risk of SIDS. Similarly, feeding them lots of solids or an extra large bottle is not a factor in helping them sleep through the night. All of these things can disrupt sleep by causing physical discomfort such as gassiness.
Nighttime sleep is more important than daytime sleep.
Though it is very important for babies to get good quality night sleep, nighttime sleep does not trump or replace quality naps during the day. Naps and nighttime sleep are intrinsically connected, and together create a snowball effect for truly healthy and restful sleep. Once babies emerge from the “disorganized sleep phase” after six to eight weeks, their wake times between naps are still short. Learning your baby’s early tired cues as well as keeping track of the appropriate length of wakefulness for their age will serve you and your baby greatly. As they get older, you can expect their periods of wakefulness to become longer, and for their naps to lessen and consolidate. When babies are not napping enough during the day, they will go to bed overtired and have more difficulty falling asleep and putting themselves back to sleep during partial and complete arousals at night. It is also worth noting that the biggest cause of very early morning wake times is going to bed overtired or too late! It’s all connected.