Never Wake a Sleeping Baby....and Other Sleep Myths
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
After your baby arrives, it seems that everyone has good intentioned advice for you, whether you have asked for it or not (I’m looking at you stranger at the grocery store). And while some advice are little nuggets of mom gold, it can be difficult to sift through all the information to find what’s best for your family. As a Certified Child Sleep Expert, my goal is to help guide families through what is fact versus what is a baby misconception. So go pour yourself another cup of coffee (I’m on my 2nd) and let’s get started! Here are my top 5 debunked baby myths:
Myth 1: Newborns Can Set Their Own Sleep Schedule
As adults, our bodies have long established a thing called the “24-hour clock” or “Circadian Rhythm”. This clock helps regulate our body’s melatonin levels to know when to be awake (during the day) and when it’s time for sleep (at night). Unfortunately, babies are not born with an established circadian rhythm (that would be nice, amiright?)… instead they typically sleep more during the day and are up for longer stretches at night. This results in the sleep deprivation new parents know all too well. But why does this happen?
Well it’s partly due to day/night confusion, which puts your baby on an opposite sleep schedule as you. While your sweet babe was in utero, your activity during the day gently rocked them to sleep, while your inactivity at night allowed them to stay awake. That’s why your baby loved doing somersaults while you were trying to sleep. Melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone, also plays a role in a newborns sleep schedule. This hormone doesn’t start sufficiently producing in a baby until around the age of 3-4 months, which contributes to the inconsistent sleep that we usually see. While newborns have somewhat of a natural sleep pattern due to their frequent feedings (every 2-3 hours), I recommend that parents create a loosely based sleep routine that includes all the elements of a safe and healthy sleep environment.
Myth 2: Never Wake a Sleeping Baby
I remember as a teenager, my mom giving me this advice when I was babysitting. While newborns typically need a lot of sleep in a 24-hour period (16-17 hours), it is perfectly ok to gently help them establish their circadian rhythm.
There are many times when waking your baby is appropriate, such as to not miss a feeding or if their nap is lasting too long. Following a loose sleeping and feeding routine will help guide you through this process. And as always, use your best judgement while you and your new baby are figuring out your family rhythm together.
Myth 3: If a Baby Has a Bad Night’s Sleep, They Can Make It Up During The Day
This is probably the most common sleep myth that I debunk with clients. Nighttime sleep and daytime sleep are equally important to your baby as they grow, and while their natural sleep schedule is not established yet, having them catch up on sleep during the day does more harm than good.
If a baby has had a bad night’s sleep, try consistently sticking to your sleeping and feeding routine during the day hours. Be careful not to allow baby to "catch up" on sleep during the day as this can create another night of wonky sleep, and you deserve some rest!
Myth 4: Babies Should Sleep In Silence
Everyone has specific ways that they like to fall asleep, and babies are no different. In the womb they hear many loud noises inside your body that include your blood pumping , your breathing and even your stomach! All these noises combined create the white noise that babies are so fond of. That is why household appliances such as vacuums and hair driers help soothe baby…it’s the same kind of white noise!
Babies are very familiar with this noise and by including it in their sleep environment, it can help them stay asleep longer. And as a bonus, you won’t want to sucker punch your mailman when he rings the doorbell during nap time…they have impeccable timing, don’t they?
Myth 5: Feeding a Baby Formula at Night Will Help Them Sleep Longer
While there is nothing wrong with exclusively feeding a baby formula, supplementing for a better night’s sleep is not always recommended. A common opinion is that formula metabolizes slower than breastmilk, causing baby to sleep longer. However, regardless of diet, all newborns feed approximately every 2-3 hours, so there isn’t a guarantee that formula will create longer sleep stretches.
Breastmilk however, naturally contains tryptophan (an amino acid that causes sleepiness) and melatonin. These two natural sleep aids are at their highest concentration during the evening, so breastfeeding your little one before their nighttime sleep can actually help assist them in getting their much needed zzzz’s.
Sleep is something that isn't going to be perfect, especially within the first year of your baby's life. Being a parent is hard work and no one has all the answers! Don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for help, and just know that you are a great mom. Surround yourself with love and support.... you are doing an amazing job!