September 1 2016
Did you know that you can survive twice as long without food as you can without sleep? And that chronic sleep deprivation in children can raise their risk of behaviour problems and obesity?
Sleep – especially children’s sleep – is one of those topics. Almost everyone has a story to tell, good or bad, about their children’s sleep. And it seems almost everyone has an opinion (sometimes offered as ‘science-based ‘truth’ even though it’s not) about how babies should sleep.
Nowadays it feels as if there is a lot of pressure on parents to get their children, even little ones, to sleep in the same way we, as adults, do: namely for long periods of time and on their own. New parents are frequently asked if their child has ‘slept through yet’ and an entire industry (websites, books, apps, social media gurus) has arisen around ‘solving infant sleep problems’.
Yet even a quick glance at our evolutionary history shows us that infants’ sleep needs remain mostly unchanged since cavemen times. Back then infants slept on or near their main caregiver, usually the mother, for months or years to ensure their survival – against the elements and for the good of their body and their brain.
You see a newborn’s stomach is tiny and breastmilk is digested quickly. Also, the staggeringly large amount of brain development that takes place after birth requires ALOT of energy which is gained from – you guessed it – frequent amounts of (breast)milk. All this means that frequent feeding was necessary and desirable for a human infant.
Combine this with the fact that an infant’s body often needs an adults to help with regulatory functions (like heart rate and temperature) and you can see why having an infant sleeping on or next to you worked well for our cavemen ancestors.
Fast forward to today and – even though we no longer live in caves – newborn infants have the same brain and body needs as way back then. Their little bodies are still programmed to sleep in short bursts so that they can feed frequently, and they still seek the comfort of a warm adult body to help regulate not just their body but their brain too.
Building sleep independence is a commendable goal but it works best if you keep in mind the needs of our children from times of old which still guide their behaviour to seek proximity to us. And as with any kind of independence-building it can often be a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ experience. In order to build healthy sleep habits, meet your child where they are (developmentally speaking) – and support them with gentle, relationship-based love and kindness.
If you’d like to know more, keep an eye out for the brand new For Life workshop: Sleep Like A Baby coming later this year.
And for a common-sense approach and an entertaining read about all things sleep, visit Pinky McKay’s blog: ww.pinkymckay.com/blog/sleep/