Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Setting up for Sleep Success

Time Magazine has a nice little article on children and sleep that touches on the results of a few studies. It starts off with the results of a new study by Valérie Simard of Hôpital de Sacré-Coeur in Montréal, which looked at the link between parent bedtime behaviors and sleep disturbances in children during infancy and early childhood. The study was published by the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The gist of it is that you should be wary of of doing things to help your child fall asleep, or fall back asleep, that require your presence for more than several minutes.

If kids begin to rely on you being there in order to fall asleep, they never quite get the hang of what it is like to drift off to sleep on their own. Once the sleep associations are formed they can be challenging to alter, as many parents have found. Dr. Taveras of Harvard Medical School put it this way, "Parents and pediatricians should keep in mind that children have to develop the capacity to regulate their own sleep early in life and self-soothe themselves during the night." The article goes on to discuss the relationship of too little sleep with obesity and also touches on other night time practices that work against you and your child in the long run.

This makes sense to me. My experience as a clinician who works with families is that sleeping with the child to get them to sleep can be very pleasant and can promote bonding. The problem is that it doesn't solve, and actually merely postpones the issue of when the child will master the skill of transitioning from drowsy to asleep when on their own. Parents who do choose a family sleeping arrangement should prepare themselves for the eventuality that they will need to help their child clear this hurdle.

One argument for the family sleeping arrangement that I often hear presented is that in many societies past and present everyone slept in the same bed or in the same very small sleeping quarters. The missing piece from the argument, in my mind though, is that in those societies, that sort of sleeping arrangement continues throughout the entirety of childhood. And there's the rub. Parents in those cultures and societies don't/didn't face having to train a young child to sleep on their own after years of being used to the company of their parents and siblings in close proximity. Parents in our society almost always eventually do have to face that developmental challenge. There are many other factors to consider and I think both arrangements have their pros and cons. I do know though that I've had many parents in my office who wish they'd been advised about this downside before they'd made their decision.

Here is a link to a previous post on the link between adequate sleep and not only cognitive abilities in the short run, but to IQ.

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