Myth busting: Baby sleep edition

Sleep, especially the infant and toddler variety, is a touchy subject. As soon as your baby is born, you start getting bombarded with the dreaded question: “Is he sleeping through the night yet?”

And if your answer is “no,” you automatically feel like you’re doing something wrong.

I know this because my 2-year-old son, Huntley, was a “Bad Sleeper”, the kind that made parents of “Good Sleepers” solemnly shake their heads and say things like “That’s awful. Have you tried sleep training? Essential oils? Ritual sacrifices?”

And while I do think the pressure to have a child sleeping through the night at some arbitrary early age is sometimes just another way moms try to one-up each other, I understand the value of a good night’s sleep.

If a child grows up with unhealthy sleep habits, it’s not just tired parents who suffer. Kids who routinely don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have behavioral and cognitive issues (as well as a grouchy temperament) during the day.

Most parents have heard of “sleep training,” or teaching children to fall and stay asleep on their own, usually in their own beds. It generally involves some type of crying when it’s first implemented, and it’s a controversial topic in the parenting world. Proponents say you’re setting your child up for a life of healthy sleep habits, while opponents say letting your child cry is akin to ignoring her basic needs. Ultimately every parent has to decide what will work best for their family.

If you’re a parent of a Bad Sleeper and think sleep training is for you, there’s good news. Charlotte is replete with sleep consultants who come to your home and teach you the habits you need to get back your precious shut-eye.

We sat down with Morgan Griffith, an in-demand sleep consultant and owner of Sleep Pea Infant & Toddler Sleep Consulting, and asked her to help us debunk a few popular sleep myths she’s heard over the years. Here’s what she had to say.

MYTH: If I keep my child up late, he’ll sleep later the next morning.

FACT: Actually, the opposite is usually true. Griffith said many parents believe in letting their kids “tire themselves out” by expending lots of energy in the afternoon and evening before they eventually “crash.” Unfortunately, the longer your child stays awake, the more stressed his system will become. When kids go to sleep overtired, they might “crash,” but they’re also more likely to have a restless night of sleep that ends with an earlier morning wake up. Griffith said she often hears from parents whose kids wake up at 6 a.m. no matter what time they went to bed the night before. In that case, you’re better off moving bedtime earlier, not later, to increase the amount of sleep logged.

MYTH: My child doesn’t need that much sleep.

FACT: Griffith said it’s understandable that some parents decide their child just doesn’t need as much sleep as other kids their age — especially when naps are inconsistent or impossible, and bedtime routines drag on for hours. However, experts say that in a 24-hour period, infants younger than 1 year old need 14 to 15 hours of sleep, toddlers need 12-14 hours and pre-schoolers need 11-13 hours.

MYTH: You have to sleep train your child by a certain age, like 12 weeks old, or you’ve missed the window.

FACT: The best time to teach your child healthy sleep habits is when you as a parent are ready to make a change, Griffith said. She did say that she finds 12-to-16-week-olds more “teachable” because generally by this age kids are capable of sleeping longer stretches and haven’t yet learned bad sleep habits. She also said once your child hits the 10-month mark, habits like being rocked or nursed to sleep are more heavily ingrained and can be tougher to break.

But even if you’ve never sleep trained and your 4-year-old is still staying up until 11 p.m. and then sleeping in your bed, it’s not too late.

Remember, sleep consultants have varying methods to help you get your child on a favorable sleep schedule, so you’ll need to do some research to make sure your chosen consultant’s method is right for you.

This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.