Make kids sleep better, here’s how
By Kristelle Bechayda
Are you having difficulty putting your infant to sleep? A group of New Zealand researchers suggests that allowing them to fall asleep on their own can help improve their sleep.
According to their recently published Sleep Health journal, kids whose parents consistently used those bedtime strategies were more likely to sleep longer and have fewer bedtime behavioral difficulties.
“It’s really hard being a parent, and we’d like to be able to tell them which strategies to implement that will actually help,” said the study’s lead author Burt Hatch of the University of California at Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento.
Conducting the study
In the study, the authors note that about a third of infants experience sleep difficulties such as trouble falling asleep or repeatedly waking up throughout the night. These sleep problems are often associated with difficulties like anxiety, aggression, and impulsiveness later on in life.
“Although consistency around bedtime has always been thought to be important, there’s not much data around parents implementing it or the long-term effects,” Hatch added.
In conducting the study, the researchers educated parents about the appropriate ways to manage an infant’s sleep with minimal interference, placing emphasis on putting the infants down when they are tired but still awake.
This allowed them to fall asleep on their own without touching or feeding, thus lessening the instances of parents having to sleep with their infants on the same bed and also providing a consistent sleeping environment.
Four to six months after they gave birth, the parents were surveyed by the researchers to find out how often they followed the sleeping strategies, and were once again asked three-and-a-half years later to rate the difficulties with their child’s bedtime resistance, sleep initiation, and nighttime waking.
More bedtime strategies, more self-control on sleep
It was revealed that about 15 percent of the parents used the four strategies consistently, with the younger mothers more likely to use more strategies. Meanwhile, moms who experienced maternal depression were less likely to use them.
Interestingly, children whose parents used more bedtime strategies were more likely to develop sleep self-control by age 3, compared to children whose mothers had maternal depression. It was revealed that the latter were more prone to sleep difficulties.
“The most important message here is that parents can make simple changes that have both an immediate impact and long-term impact,” said Jodi Mindell of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mindell, who wasn’t involved with this study, researches pediatric sleep disorders.
Expecting parents should also prepare for the after-birth
Focusing only on one maternity hospital in New Zealand that serves mostly on Caucasian, college-educated parents, Hatch admitted that their study lacked diversity.
He added that these programs should also be offered to higher risk groups, including different socioeconomic levels and those with a history of depression.
“We often find that expectant mothers are largely focused on the birth as opposed to the many challenges that come after that process,” said Liora Kempler of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia.
Kempler, who wasn’t involved with this study, researches maternal and infant sleep after childbirth, especially among first-time mothers. She added that information is often brief about pain relief, feeding and sleep after birth, even if most perinatal programs offer advice about them.
“I believe it’s useful for pregnant women to educate themselves about parenting over time and how their behavior can impact their infant,” Kempler added. “This not only helps them make informed decisions but gives them confidence in making those decisions, rather than being confused by the variable and often conflicting advice offered by Dr. Google and well-meaning family and friends.”
Story from Reuters.