Myth Buster: 5 Common Myths about Baby’s Sleep

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

I can clearly remember, like most mothers I’m sure, the very moment I gave birth to my first child, Albert. I was absolutely buried in feelings of love and gratitude. And then, some hours later, I was equally buried in doubts, advice, suggestions, and information.

There’s no such thing as a part-time mom. This gig is full-time, no matter if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, a working mom, or somewhere in between. Your kids are on your mind 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, no matter what else might be going on, so we tend to do a lot of research, and with access to unlimited data via the internet, it’s inevitable that we get some conflicting information.

So, I want to focus on my area of expertise, which is baby sleep, and try to dispel some of the more popular myths I’ve seen in parenting forums and heard from Mom groups I’ve talked with.

1. Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night.

Not likely, except in extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with the length of their naps. Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, around 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 1.5 hour at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour.

What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sack out for a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually just the opposite. The reason we refer to it as being “overtired” is because baby has missed the “tired” phase and their bodies start to kick back into gear, which keeps them from falling and staying asleep. A baby who has gotten a decent amount of sleep during the day is far less likely to miss the sleep window.

There are substantial variations depending on baby’s age and the length of their naps, but up to that 6 month mark, it’s really not uncommon for baby to be sleeping around 5 hours a day outside of nighttime sleep, so if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.

2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.

Sleeping is natural, absolutely. Everybody wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night, regardless of their age. So no, you can’t teach a child to be sleepy. What can be taught, however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently and healthy sleep habits.

The typical “bad sleeper” of a baby isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up. They’ve just learned to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake up. Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, they start stringing those sleep cycles together absolutely effortlessly, and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night”.

3. Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule.

The idea that infant physiology is so flawlessly, naturally programmed to regulate a baby’s schedule is, to be honest, exaggerated. Nothing against Mother Nature, but she doesn’t provide us with a ready-to-run baby at birth. Our babies are cuter, but clearly not as prepared for battle straight out of the womb.

Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep cycle by as little as a half hour, their cortisol production can increase which causes a surge in energy, and things quickly spiral out of control. So as much as I wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.

4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.

Today there are many studies proving the opposite. According to a 2016 studyconducted by eight top researchers from the American Academy of Pediatrics, behavioral intervention (A.K.A Sleep training) “provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” So there is no doubt about the benefits of behavioral intervention to teach your child to sleep better at night.

Another important fact to consider is that the consequences of sleepless nights go beyond the tiredness of the next day. It can affect children's cognitive development, increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. That is, by teaching your child to sleep well, you will help him learn more, remember things and grow in a healthy way, as his body produces growth hormone when he is sleeping.

5. Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.

This myth is somewhat fatalistic. I think we can all agree that, even if babies were “designed” somehow, there is a lot of room for learning and development. Trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing is a dangerous recipe.

Is your toddler designed to eat three pounds of chocolate? Surely not. Will he/she if you don’t intervene? Without a doubt.

Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years, and probably will for decades after that. This is especially true when it comes to their sleep. Some babies are naturally gifted sleepers, for sure, but don’t rely on the advice that babies should dictate their schedules. You’re in charge, because you know best.

There are obviously plenty more myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits, but these are some of the most important to get the facts on.

Remember, there are endless posts on social media and websites that portray themselves as factual, but there’s nothing stopping them from making that claim, regardless of their accuracy or basis in actual scientific evidence. Google scholar is a great find peer-reviewed scientific study on all things baby-related, and trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, the World Health Organization, and other national children’s health organizations are excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health.

And if you want more information about the benefits of sleep and baby sleep consulting, I will be happy to help you.

Carla Picolli

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