Sleep. Perhaps the hottest parenting topic out there. If you’re a mom or soon-to-be mom, chances are pretty high you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, worrying about and maybe even crying over your baby’s sleep habits. Perhaps the toughest part about infant and toddler sleep is that, much like anything else, there is no one-size-fits all answer to sleep problems. Especially as a new mom it can be hard to decipher what is normal and acceptable for an infant’s sleep patterns and when there’s a problem… and when you should bring in reinforcements.
Because this can be such a tough and touchy subject, we decided to consult with an expert in the field to help us answer some common sleep questions parents have. Lauren Olson, the 3-time certified sleep consultant behind Sleep and the City (and one of our fav insta accounts), was kind enough to share her wisdom with us, and even give us tired mamas some words of encouragement for getting through the throes of sleep deprivation. Read on to hear what she has to say about crying it out, must-have sleep products and the most common misconception about infant sleep (hint: you might need to start blaming those night wakings on something other than teething).
Why is sleep so important for parents, and won’t my child just eventually start sleeping well on his/her own without me needing to intervene?
The sleep consulting profession is a relatively new way to help overwhelmed and exhausted parents work through their family sleep issues, and without a doubt there is a great need for such type of service to exist. Sleep itself plays a huge role in your mental & physical health. Without a “good night’s rest”, our bodies can often feel sore and our minds foggy. Poor decision making and lack of reaction time are common as well.
Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to multiple health risks in children including an increased chance of SIDS, lack of appetite, low immunity and misdiagnosed behavior problems. Unfortunately, studies like these and adult insomnia wouldn’t exist if children could magically navigate through their sleep issues alone. Children simply won’t “sleep when they are tired” and in most cases, need some additional help receiving the sleep necessarily for optimal growth.
Is cry-it-out the only way to teach your baby how to fall asleep on their own?
The “cry-it-out” or “CIO” method receives a lot of negative attention due to the idea that a child is left alone in their crib for hours on end to cry without interaction or intervention from a caretaker. I personally offer a breadth of sleep training methods, from the quick to the gentle for every parenting style, using a holistic approach, meaning the solution we come up with together is custom to a family’s sleep goals and situation. I have been highly successful in working with children from birth to age 6 without having to ever use cry-it-out as an option.
Are there some babies that won’t respond to sleep-training? Or is it just a matter of finding the best approach for each baby?
This is a tricky question because it really takes some work on my part as a sleep consultant to find the real “root” of the sleep issue that a child is experiencing. A child’s temperament plays a large role in which approach I would suggest, which is why I find it most helpful to receive as much information about a family’s lifestyle and parenting style up front. We are always working together to keep a child’s emotional well-being a TOP priority. In some cases, sleep “training” isn’t even needed, especially with newborns and older toddlers.
Do you have any products you swear by that can help with baby's sleep routine?
I have a few products that I guarantee less night wakings and longer naps over time. In combination with a perfected sleep environment and age-appropriate schedule, the DockaTot is one of my top favorites, as it’s able to travel with you on vacation or overnight to Grandma’s house. Every child AND adult can benefit from white noise, which the Hatch Baby Rest can provide, all controlled by a smart phone for ease of use. I also suggested swaddles for young infants whom haven’t rolled over yet, and sleep sacks for older infants for additional comfort. A security item is a plus, like a lovey for example, to combat separation anxiety peaks that occur around 12 months and later again around the age of 2. All combined with a dark room can be your ticket to excellent sleep! After baby is asleep, I like to use the “Hush Happens” door silencer from Itzy Ritzy, which makes it very easy to quickly check on my child after they are asleep without waking them!
Can bad sleep habits be broken even at older ages (say ages 2-4)?
Absolutely! As children enter toddlerhood, I like to take an approach that differs widely from what I would suggest with a family of a newborn, and I focus primarily on the behavioral aspect of sleep, meaning what routines should be in place and how we as parents should respond to a particular behavior that may occur at night such as a child that gets out of bed repeatedly or experiences trouble falling asleep. Toddlers can be one of the most rewarding age groups to work with, as they generally understand rules and aim to please their parents.
What is the most common misconception around sleep for children?
If I had time to list out all the misconceptions out there, this would be a LOT longer of an article! Probably the two biggest myths out there I’ve debunked would be that “teething causes night wakings” and “moving a child to a toddler bed can fix his/her sleep issues”. Teething itself doesn’t cause wake ups, and moving a child into a bed where they have free reign of the house can often lead to an even larger handful of sleep issues.
Do you have any words of encouragement for parents in the throes of sleep deprivation?
You do NOT have to “ride it out.” Undesirable sleep habits CAN be reversed, no matter the age of the child. Clients will often tell me, “I wish we would have started this sooner!” Not only for the parent’s own health (and sanity,) but we see a huge change in a child’s patience, temperament, and overall personality when they are receiving quality sleep, which can make parenting a much more enjoyable ride! Sleep shaping, schedules and routines are a lot less intimidating than people anticipate sometimes, and working with Sleep & the City can help anyone form a plan that fits right for their parenting style and their family.