Common Sleep Myths Busted!

Sleep advice you might want to think twice about
infant sleeping on back with soother and wearing a blue knitted hat

Sleep myths—we’ve all heard them, over and over again whether you are still pregnant or you’ve just had your fourth. Those little pieces of “advice” that everyone feels they have a right to say to all parents. There are many experiences that have been passed down from mother to daughter, friend to friend, and sister to sister. Then there are the thousands of theories and tidbits of advice online! How do you know which ones to listen to and which ones you just nod your head at politely? Advice is just that though: it’s advice. And you can take it or leave it. In the end, you will do what you feel is best for your child.

Here are some of the biggest misconceptions surrounding sleep that we hear on a regular basis to help you weed through all the conflicting recommendations and opinions.

Sleep myth #1 

“Never wake a sleeping baby.”

What we say: Regardless of your child’s age, there will be times when waking them will be necessary. You may need to wake an infant to feed them (for many reasons), an older baby to help protect the schedule you’re building, or a child to ensure quality overnight sleep.

Tip #1: To help your child establish a schedule, a consistent yet flexible wake time is imperative. Some flexibility is encouraged, but it’s best to wake within the same thirty minutes every day. This will help not only the schedule but also their internal clock regulation.

Sleep myth #2 

“Skip naps and keep them up later at night. They’ll sleep better.”

What we say: Daytime sleep is crucial for overnight sleep! It may be that if you keep your child up late for a few nights, they will sleep better because they’ll be exhausted. But it will catch up to them if it becomes regular practice. The domino effect will lead to more wakings, early rising, and a harder time settling them into sleep.

Tip #2: Encouraging naps through the day at regular intervals will make for an easier time putting them to sleep, a more predictable day for both parent and child, and will allow them to be well rested for overnight sleep. Daytime sleep varies from age to age and decreases as they get older.

Sleep myth #3

“Fill them up before bed, they’ll sleep longer.”

What we say: Yes, there are foods that can help sleep, but there are also foods that interfere with sleep. But if you create a sleep association, whether it’s eating, nursing (this doesn’t apply to younger infants), bouncing, rocking, walking or a car ride, when they wake they will need that same thing again to help them get back to sleep. It’s also important to note we do not recommend adding cereal to a bottle.

Tip #3: If you feel like your little one is waking out of hunger through the night, chances are, you’re right. The body becomes very dependent on those calories, which means it expects those calories. Slowly transferring those calories from overnight to during the day will ease the transition from night eating and will ensure that your child isn’t feeling hungry.

Sleep myth #4

“Don’t hold your baby too much or pick her up as soon as she cries, you will spoil her and she will become dependent on you.”

What we say: There is no such thing as spoiling an infant! They have spent the last nine months inside of you and need you to help them adjust to the outside world. Some babies adjust quite quickly, while others need a little more time. By responding to your child’s cries, you are teaching her that you are there for her when she needs you. You are nurturing the bond you have created with her, and you are building her confidence in how she handles the world, which will encourage her independence down the road. It will also increase her sense of security, which can influence the ease with which she sleeps.

Tip #4: Wearing your baby can help keep your little one close while still having free hands to attend to older children or accomplish small tasks throughout the day and it’s also an opportunity for short naps. Please be sure to research and seek help for proper baby wearing techniques.

Sleep myth #5

“They will outgrow their sleep challenges.”

What we say: Although some children may outgrow sleep challenges on their own, there are very few who actually do. It is common for babies with sleep challenges at one year of age to still have sleep challenges at four years of age if nothing has been done to help them through.

Tip #5: It’s never too late to start working on your child’s sleep. Falling asleep is a learned behaviour and working on it through childhood will make a difference for them through their teenage, young adult, and adult years.

Sleep myth #6

“Some children just don’t need as much sleep as others.”

What we say: Although the amount of sleep needed varies from child to child, a chronically overtired child will start to show signs of tiredness through other means. They may have a harder time adjusting in social gatherings, they may be less likely to adapt well to change, and they may exhibit more emotional meltdowns or temper tantrums. An overtired or sleep-deprived child may also show more signs of aggression and behavioural challenges as they grow and through their school years. In study after study, behaviour has been linked to poor sleep habits and sleep deprivation.

Tip #6: As a general rule, an overtired baby or child will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep! Ensure they are getting the sleep they need through a regular and reasonable bedtime and an environment that promotes good sleeping conditions.

*Originally published January 25, 2016